Jews. 1840–1860-s. Images of Jews in Early Russian Photography




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. Daguerreotype (a family portrait that came into the museum’s collection in 2007) is a unique example of one of the first photographic processes that was popular in Russia between 1839 and the mid-1860s: depending on the tilt of the plate to the light source, it can look like a negative or a positive. The earliest photographs on Jewish culture are salt paper prints that were received in 1866 by the Photographic Commission established to prepare for an Ethnographic Exhibition. The Exhibition Preparatory Committee approved shooting requirements stipulating half-length and full-length portraits, "convenient when you need to show all parts of a costume." The photographs that were intended for sculptors to work on the mannequins were to be left without retouching. Such photographs were subsequently actively used in the manufacture of "figures", i.e. clothing mannequins. At the Russian Ethnographic Exhibition, which opened in the Moscow Manege in May 1867, there was a sketch dedicated to Jewish culture depicting "three Talmudic Jews in their habitual work clothes, and one standing alone, in attire usually used for prayer." In addition to the staged scenes, the exhibition was the first to show general public about one and a half thousand photographs representing the images of the peoples of the Russian Empire. One of its photographic expositions was devoted to the Jewish culture. More than 40 photographs introduced visitors to the life of Jews in Mogilev, Vitebsk, Vilensk, Kamenets-Podolsk, Erivan provinces and Crimea, the cities of Vilna and Berdichev. The organizers’ idea was to exhibit mostly portrait photographs, including works by a famous photographer and antiquarian M.F. Kustsinsky; Brzhozovsky, Artist Straus and Okolov Photographic Parlour in Vilno; professional photographer A.V. Seletsky. The1867 Russian Ethnographic Exhibition became the first large-scale exhibition project in the history of the Russian Empire, showing cultures of many peoples. It gave a powerful impetus not only to the growth in ethnographic research, of which photography became an integral part, but also allowed photography to develop as an independent art, making the ethnographic genre popular and highly demanded.


Karina Solovyeva, Head of Photography Department, curator