Exhibition of photographs of late XIX – early XX century from the collections of the Russian National Library, State Centre of Photography, Institute of Material Culture History at the Russian Academy of Science.
Famous Russian photographer Sergey Lvovich Levitsky first received a successful daguerreotype image in 1843. This happened during his trip to Kavkazskiye Mineralniye Vody. The photographs he made during this trip were the first in the history of photography to be awarded the medal of the Universal Paris Exhibition. From then on, the Caucasus constantly attracted photographers by its beautiful nature, cultural heritage and ethnical diversity.The present exhibition of the late XIX – early XX century photographs of the Caucasus continues the series of ROSPHOTO exhibitions introducing to the audience unique examples of national photography preserved in Russian museums and archives. Successful collaboration of the State Centre of Photography with the Material Culture Institute at the Russian Academy of Science and the Russian National Library allows to present over 150 original photographs first time on display and to make closer acquaintance with the work of Russian masters that worked in the Caucasus.
The Caucasus has been long since a unique region for Russia. On the one hand, it was a place of deportation and murderous wars, on the other hand – a source of poetic inspiration. Some of the outstanding works of Russian literature were created here, and biographies of their authors intertwined with the history of the Caucasus. Photographers captured the "Castle of Czarina Tamara", the grotto where A.S.Griboyedov and his wife Nina Tchavtchavadze were buried, and the place of Mikhael Lermontov's duel that was first found by the two famous photographers from Pyatigorsk – A.K.Engel and G.I.Rayev. Already in XIX, having been proclaimed national infirmary, Kavkazskiye Mineralniye Vody became prestigeous health resort where old friends united during recreation and new acquaintances were made. From the 1860-ies, many photographers opened here their studios for guests and locals. The beautiful nature and ethnic diversity of the Caucasus, its history preserved in the decoration of churches and the ruins of ancient fortresses – all of this attracted travellers and researchers. Everywhere they were accompanied by the young art of photography. Among the earliest photographs in the exhibition are the 1860-ies prints made by the photographers of the Military Topography Departmet of the Caucasian Military District soon after the end of the long Caucasian War (1817 – 1864). Beside the directly military and strategically important objects (bridges, tunnels, artillery park) photographers pictured characteristic types of local inhabitants, views of the mountains, historical points such as the mountain village Gunib where Shamil, the leader of Caucasian highlanders, was captured.
Considerable part of the photographs in the exhibition was created by professional photographers owning studios in the central towns of the Northern Caucasus and Transcaucasus. The hardships experienced by photographers like D.I.Yermakov, A.K.Engel, G.I.Rayev, I.F.Alexandrovich, F.N.Gadayev during journeys with cumbersome photographic equipment, were compensaded by honorable mentions from scientific societies and recognition of the audience buying postcards ana albums with the views of their favorite places. What we see today on these uniquely beautiful photographs are remote corners of the Caucasus, monuments of history and culture many of which have not survived. Not only buildings have been swept by the flow of time – some small nations that had inhabited the Caucasus no longer exist or have lost their national identity. Ethnographic photography becomes important in the late XIX – early XX century when it felt neccessary to keep in memory the marks of the leaving epoch. Each of the photographers aiming his lens at national characters, used his own work methods. The classical studio photographs of F.Orde show the viewer a gallery of bright ethnic types and fine portraits. Jean Raoult prefered staged outsie photographs with focus on the costumes of the representatives of various natios. The method of D.I.Yermakov was noval for the 1890-ies: the photographer's rare talent of reportage together with his fine artistic taste show in the everyday scenes shot in artisan shops, market places and streets of the Caucasus.
In early XX century the process of photography was considerably simplified. The light and comparatively small Kodak camera was introduced, and the film could be sent to special laboratories for processing. All of this served to expand the number of amateur photographers. Their photographs mostly repeat those of professional photographers – types, views, monuments… But these amateur images are far from the precise composition and techniqal quality of the professional ones. They coney personal impressions of a traveller, a guest who for a short time became a part of this mountaneous world. Photographs from two amateur albums are shown in the exhibition in the form of video presentation. The unique 6-shot panorama of Caucasian mountains (mountain village Gunib) made in the studio of Rudnev brothers and the mid-to-late XIX century geographic maps of the Caucasus make the exhibitin image of the Caucasus accomplished.
This exhibition allows the St.-Petersburg audience to see for the first time the world of the Caucasus by the eyes of photographers whose work opened new horizons of Russian photography more than a century ago.
ROSPHOTO expresses its appreciation for the assistance in creation of the exhibition and compiling biographical profiles to consultancy expert S.V. Morozov, Vaan Kochar (the author of "Armenian Photographers"), staff of Stavropol State Union Regional Studies Museum, Pyatigorsk Regional Studies Museum and the State Archive of the Stavropol Territory.
80 prints from the original glass plate negatives from the collection of the History Museum of Armenia in Yerevan