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St.Petersburg News

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  • 30.12.2013 MUSEUM BRINGS RARE IMAGES TO LIGHT

    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 the history of photography as a technological process by showcasing a number of techniques used since its invention in the middle of the 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.

    The curators spent many months preparing the display, going through many thousands of photographs documenting daily routines, as well as special moments, from the lives of the Russian people living in the provinces.

    As Yevgenia Petrova, deputy director of the State Russian Museum, stressed, the Russian Museum has made it its mission and developed a tradition of selecting not only artistic masterpieces for display but also those works that have historic value.

    Indeed, it is rather hard to squeeze the history of a vast country into a single display, however extensive and expertly compiled. “The format of a photo biennial allows people to reflect on the full variety of techniques, genres and styles of modern photography,” the exhibit’s organizers said.

    The photo biennial embraces all imaginable genres of photography, from portraits and landscapes to diaries. The oldest items on display are daguerreotypes dating back to the 1840s. Unlike today, when some technologies reach Russia later than, for example, Western Europe, the country woke up to the opportunities of photography almost immediately after it first emerged. Many of the items are on show to the general public for the first time.

     

    ‘The Second Photo Biennial of Historic and Archive Photography’ runs through February 17, 2014 at the Marble Palace of the State Russian Museum, 5/1 Millionnaya Ulitsa M: Admiralteiskaya. Tel. 595 4248. www.rusmuseum.ru

    St. Petersburg News

     

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