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. The Museum’s photo archive keeps portraits of people of various orders and degrees of the European Jews and the Karaites (mostly petit bourgeois and intelligentsia) made in photo studios in the cities of Vitebsk, Smolensk, Kazan, Birsk, Rostov-on-Don, Odessa, Kremenchug, Yevpatoria, Simferopol, Feodosia, Moscow, St. Petersburg in the 1880s–1910s. The photographs on the Karaites were donated to the Museum by Crimean Karaites in 1958 (Collection 8966), and on the European Jews, by collector V. A. Ivanov in the early 21st century. In the 1870s, studio photography became an indispensable part of life of well-to-do urban dwellers. As photographic equipment and technologies developed, with the advent of three-layer prints (collodion from the 1880s, and gelatin a while later), photography was becoming more affordable for various strata of the Russian society. Due to the price and convenient format, the most popular ones were visiting card (“visit portrait”, about 5.5×9 cm) and cabinet portrait (“cabinet portrait” 11×16 cm). The former, with their democratic price (usually one and a half rubles for 6 photos), were given as a memory or, if an official placed a mark on them, could serve as an identity card. Cabinet portraits were more expensive (4 rubles for 6 photos); they were placed in albums, or in frames to be put on the desk or on the mantelpiece. A paper print was always glued to a special cardboard backing, or passe-partout, which protected the photograph against damage. Besides, the passe-partout not only shaped the picture, but also contained information on the studio’s name and address and the photographer and his credentials, often indicating the year and month of the shooting. The letterheads were often made of Bristol board, decorating them with fancy figures and gold or silver stamping; they were printed in special printing offices or factories. Such passe-partouts could be afforded by the most successful photographers, whose credentials or awards indicated the degree of their artistry. Such pictures are represented in this section by the art of such photographers as I. L. Serebrin, V. V. Ostrovsky, S. A. Yurkovsky from Vitebsk, A. H. Zimson, I.S. And S.S. Felzer, S. I. Ivanov, A. F. Belyaev from Kazan, A. Posse from Smolensk, Gamal from Kremenchug, M. Lichtenberg from Odessa, I. L. Tiraspolsky from Yevpatoria, V. G. Chekhov from Moscow and others. Group portraits were most often made either in cabinet picture or larger sizes (see photographs by I. M. Yakobson and V. I. Yasvoin). In the 1910s, cheap paper began to be used instead of passe-partout, and letterheads gradually disappeared from photo studios (prints from the studio of M. P. Kadyson or A. A. Otsup). Photographs of a new format, without a cardboard base also appeared at that time – it was postal cards of 9×14 cm, whose reverse was marked out for the address and postage stamp (photographs by G. R. Ziv). Masters of studio portrait of the late 19th and early 20th century were virtuosos of professional techniques: soft lighting combined with a background, neutral or decorated, was used to create an artistic image, and at the same time to convey the personal touch of the person portrayed. The excellent quality and crisp detailing of their images is largely explained by the fact that the print size always corresponded to the negative size.
Karina Solovyeva, Head of Photography Department, curator
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