Collection of Photographs and Negatives
The photographs give a striking and comprehensive overview of the traditional lifestyles of the peoples who used to inhabit the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, as well as those who live in Russia today. They show members of various nationalities who are engaged in traditional occupations, childcare, celebrations, and rituals. One can see their large and small villages, Central Asian kishlaks and Caucasus auls, their towns and cities. They feature houses of worship, such as Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, cathedrals, chapels, Old Believers' meeting-houses, synagogues, pagodas, Buddhist temples and shamans' chums. Also represented are their dwellings: izbas, chums, yurta tents, fangzas and Caucasus mountain huts. Last but not least, there are photos of market places, bazaars, fairs, staples and trading posts with an assortment of goods on offer; there are also pictures of the traders and buyers themselves. The photographs give an idea of people's festive and everyday costumes and sets of garments; they show how a particular article of clothing was worn, how a kerchief was tied about the neck or head, or a poniova skirt tucked under, how an apron was used as a decorative part of a costume, or how a fanciful head-dress was arranged on the head. The national costumes were thoroughly elaborated in every detail, and well suited the wearers. Most importantly, the photographs offer close-ups of people long gone, some smiling, some embarrassed at being photographed; the world of our ancestors is brought closer to us today, its gradual change and transformation unfolding before our eyes.
This wealth of materials has been accumulated since the early years of the Museum's history. The first substantial photographic input came from the artist S. Dudin, who was employed by the Museum to work in Central Asia in 1900-02. Then followed the contributions of P. Beketov, M. Krukovsky and E. Ukhtomsky, who supplied photographs of Central Asian people. The life of Siberian nationalities is portrayed in the photographs made by P. Ostrovskikh, F. Kon, D. Klements, A. Makarenko, A. Adrianov and I. Popov.
In 1902-5, the stock was augmented with photographs of Russian and Ukranian villages taken by the Museum curators Ye. Liatsky and N. Mogiliansky, and also by F. Volkov and Museum agents I. Zaretsky, V. Babenko, and A. Vysotsky.
From 1903 through the 1910s, the Museum obtained selections on the nationalities of the Caucasus submitted by D. Yermakov, A. Piralov, N. Derzhavin, A. Mlokosevich and others. Subsequent acquisitions of photographs and negatives came from varied sources. As a rule, the Museum took in photographs made by staff members during expeditions, or else by professional photographers specially employed for this purpose. Their pictures are highly original to the point of being unmatched in terms of content. The ethnographers wielded their cameras so as to capture whatever interested them professionally, trying as best as they could to reveal the essence of ethnic culture. However, it is regretful that, technically speaking, those photographs leave a lot to be desired, for all scholars were not experienced photographers.
The Museum also used to acquire, as it does today, private photographic collections. Particularly worthy of notice are the collections received from the photographer D. Yermakov, who was working in the Caucasus between 1879 and 1916, and from the well-known cartographer and statistician A. Rittikh, dating from mid-19th century and featuring the nationalities of the Volga area.
Besides, the Museum's stock includes collections transferred at different times from disbanded institutions across Russia. Highly valuable are the 20,000 photographs received in 1948 from the State Museum of the USSR Peoples. Standing out among them are photographs of members of various nationalities of the Russian Empire wearing traditional costumes; made by professional photographers, they had originally been intended for the 1867 Ethnographic Exhibition in Moscow.
In 1928, the Museum received a collection on the culture of the Caucasus nationalities spanning the period from 1880s to 1890s, which was transferred from the Leningrad branch of the State Museum Reserve, along with some photographs of the Ashkenazi Jews from the disbanded Jewish Museum in Odessa. Just as valuable are the collections that entered the Museum in 1966 from the Leningrad State University and the Shokalsky Museum. They contain photographs dating from the latter half of the 19th century and providing insights into the life of Russian people and the nationalities of Central Asia and Siberia. Between the 1960s and the 1980s, some of the acquisitions came from news agencies, e.g. TASS, the Novosti Press Agency and information services in the Soviet republics. Made by newspaper photographers, those pictures give an account of the Soviet Union's life, chiefly covering Soviet festivals and rites, as well as folklore group performances.
The photographic material accumulated by the Museum is of unquestionable scientific value in terms of content and range of themes; it remains a legitimate and reliable documentary source of research into the lifestyles and cultures of Eurasian peoples.