Emirate and Empire: Photography in Central Asia 1858-1917
34 Pages Posted: 8 Feb 2020
Date Written: September 29, 2009
A survey of the social, political, economic and artistic development of photography in Central Asia from its inception in the mid 19th century to the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. The article covers the development of photography in Russia proper, early photographic processes, and photography’s rapid commercial development and public popularity. It describes the Russian conquest of Central Asia and the beginning of photographic documentation by photographers accompanying military forces, as well as large-scale commissioned projects such as the Turkestanskii Albom. Moving into the Romantic Era of commercial and “travel” photography, the article identifies the most important photographers and their distinguishing styles, including Russian, French, Swiss, and Central Asian photographers. It describes the development of the commercial postcard, pictorialism, early color photography by the innovator S. M. Prokhudin-Gorski, and finally the move into the Modernist period just prior to the Revolution.
The article identifies the overlapping “messages” in Central Asian photography of the Imperial period. These include an Orientalizing program that stereotypes and barbarizes Central Asian peoples by presenting them as noble but childlike or else ruled by debased passions, an ethnological or archaeological perspective that fixes Central Asia in time, usually showing a moribund region of crumbling architecture and people in stasis, a results-oriented perspective that depicts the modernization achieved through Russian conquest and domination, and last and least often, a socially progressive desire to elucidate a “human” condition and to encourage a feeling of identity between the subject of the photograph and the viewer.
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