Museum Brings Rare Images to Light
Published: December 25, 2013 (Issue # 1792)
Starving orphans huddling around a wooden table with several large clay pots and a few chunks of bread on it, aristocratic balls and military parades in the pre-revolutionary era, breeding horses, peasants hard at work in the fields and the first trains arriving at provincial railway stations are just some of the images that can be seen as part of the Second Biennial of Historic and Archive Photography at the Marble Palace of the State Russian Museum.
The new exhibit opened on Dec. 18 and explores how the technology of photography developed over time by showcasing a number of techniques used since its invention in the mid-19th century. Daguerreotypes, silver prints, bromoil prints and early experiments with the use of color are all on show.
In mounting this extensive display, the Russian Museum brought together images from a number of archives and libraries in Russian towns to create a journey through the past 150 years, as documented by the country’s most talented photographers.
Some of the most remarkable shots in the show come from Maxim Dmitriev, whose images of Russia are no sugar-coated postcard idylls. Rather, his photographs tell stories, and often heart-breaking ones at that. One of the founders of documentary photography in Russia, Dmitriev’s sobering images attracted significant public attention as he touched on some of society’s most pressing issues: Poverty, starvation and epidemics. They also helped make a difference by focussing the attention of the government to the plight of the populace.
“Dmitriev’s photography was impossible to ignore. This man was able to make himself heard,” said Svetlana Zinchenko, a curator with the Russian Museum’s photography department. “His photographs frequently appeared in the pages of Russian and foreign publications alike.”
Dmitriev remains a source of inspiration to this day for photographers who work in the field of reportage.
The first photo biennial held by the Russian Museum took place in 2011 and focused on images of Moscow and St. Petersburg. That exhibition showcased 400 incredible prints, including fascinating views of serene city landscapes from the pre-revolutionary era by Karl Bulla and shots by Alexander Chekhov, the elder brother of the writer Anton Chekhov.
This time out, the museum is pushing the geographic boundaries in venturing far beyond Russia’s two main cities and presenting images of life in central Russia. Hundreds of prints traveled to St. Petersburg from the Russian Photography Museum in Nizhny Novgorod, the Saratov State Arts Museum, the Tver Picture Gallery, the State Archive of Tula, the Borovichi History Museum, the Arkhangelsk Regional Museum and the Novgorod State Museum Estate, to name a few.
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