Jews. 1902–1920s. Expedition Photography: European Jews




The album was created as part of the REM project – the winner of the Second Competition of Museum and Exhibition Grants of the Russian Jewish Congress for the development of projects in the field of Jewish culture. Among the first collections received by the Department of Ethnography in 1901 were photographs acquired from professional photographers. A collection of photos (portraits and genre scenes) on Ukrainians and Jews of the city of Lubny and Lubny District of Poltava Province was purchased from Alexei Karlovich Zavadsky. In the collection of Mikhail Antonovich Krukovsky (1856-1936), traveler, geographer and writer who made a trip in 1898 to the Belarusians in areas at the border of Smolensk and Mogilev Provinces, the Jewish shtetl of Monastyrschina is presented. Nikolai Mikhailovich Mogilyansky (1871-1933), custodian of the Department of Ethnography responsible for the collection of exhibits from the middle and southern Russia, worked in Bessarabia and Podolia Provinces in 1905-1906. Mogilyansky’s photos taken in the shtetls of Yedintsy and Lanckorun are interesting in that they were made from a distant point, which enabled capturing streets with many houses, or several large buildings. Fyodor Kondratievich Volkov (1847-1918) was an archeologist, anthropologist, ethnographer, public activist, and professor who brought up many outstanding scientists. From 1907 till 1918 he was custodian of the Department of Ethnography in charge of collecting materials in Southwestern Russia and among Slav peoples outside Russia. Unique among Volkov’s photos are the 1907 images of the synagogue and its interior in the shtetl of Norinsk, Volhynia Province. Alexander Alexandrovich Miller (1875-1935), famous ethnographer, archeologist, expert in the Caucasus, and a student of Volkov worked with the Museum from 1908 till 1933. In 1905, when serving in the army in Minsk Province, Miller got interested in the Belarusians’ ethnography. Among his first business trips ordered by the Department of Ethnography was the 1907 travel to Mogilev Province. The same year, he was sent to North Caucasus, where he made several photos of Mountain Jews in the city of Kuba, Baku Province. In the early 1908, Miller made the first photo shooting of the famous “cold synagogue” on Shkolische in Mogilev. In later years, the synagogue was visited by many researchers: S. A. An-sky in 1913 during the Jewish Ethnographic Expedition, artist El Lisitsky in 1916, etc. The name of Alexander Kazimirovich Serzputowski (1864-1940) who worked with the Museum from 1906 till 1930 is primarily related to the study of the ethnography and folklore of the Belarusians. Along with this, he made a major contribution to the build-up of the Caucasian (shooting in hard-to-reach areas of Dagestan) and Jewish collections. Serzputowski was considered the Museum’s expert in all Jewish acquisitions, and in his numerous expeditions he always paid attention to collecting Jewish material, photographic in particular. For instance, as a result of his 1909 travels to Warsaw and Siedlce, the Jewish photo collections were replenished with photographs of synagogues and portraits of Jewish residents of Polish towns. In the early 20th century, the Department of Ethnography actively collaborated with the Museum’s correspondents, among whom were also students of the St. Petersburg University. For instance, in the collections of Vyacheslav Kalistratovich Kostko (1881-?) and Mikhail Isidorovich Dubrovsky on the Belarusians, and of Konstantin Vitalievich Sherotsky (1886-1919) on the Ukrainians, there are several synagogue images and portraits. In the 1920s, collection of materials for the Museum and research work was continued in expeditions of the Department of Ethnography’s expeditions. As regards field research, Maria Alexeevna Friede (1886-193?) should be noted. The results of her expeditions of 1924-1927 were several theme reports dedicated to description of buildings and crafts of Podolia Province, where among the Ukrainian material there is a description of a Jewish house and occupations in shtetls. Most of the photographs in the 1920s (47 images) were taken in Jewish shtetls of Podolia and Poltava Provinces by Arkady Ignatievich Zarembsky, (1888-1941), an employee of the Department of Ethnography. Thematically, and by the place of shooting, his collections are related to pre-Revolutionary photographs by Mogilyansky (streets and houses), Miller and Volkov (synagogue interior photos), Serzputowski (cemeteries and tombstones) and to photos of the Jewish Ethnographic Expedition of 1912-1914 (Beth Midrash of founder of Hasidism Baal Shem Tov). Researchers of the Department of Ethnography took photographs in expeditions themselves. The shooting quality depended on many aspects (camera selection, photographer’s ability to take pictures under insufficient illumination etc.), and it was not always high. However, this does not diminish the importance of the pictures as such; today, they are a unique evidence of the life of many Jewish shtetls now presented in the RME collection only.


Elena Kononova, Senior Researcher of Photography Department, co-curator