Endangered archives blog

27 April 2020

Help Needed To Describe Photographs Taken in Siberia

During the current crisis many of us are confined within the four walls of our homes. To pass the time, I started to browse my bookshelf to see whether I had any publications relevant to EAP collections online.

My colleagues, Graham Jevon and Robert Miles, were in the process of working on a crowdsourcing project to ask people to help identify early photographs from Southern Siberia. One book caught my eye and I began flipping through its pages.

I came across a description from the 1850s of what it was like to be an explorer in Siberia and (although it probably depicts an experience further north than the photographs taken as part of EAP016) I was transported from my tiny flat in London to this vast landscape.

“Winter, with all its blizzards, accompanied by unrelieved dampness, and at the same time unrelieved deep cold (a most unfavourable combination), lasts nine months. Then come two and a  half months of just dampness, like a bath, with thick marshy emanations; in the air there is ubiquitous fog of minute blood-thirsty insects, for such are midges and gnats there. Furthermore, in summer the sun does not set, which is very picturesque to see described, but is extremely tedious to experience in fact. Average temperature for the year is -10°C, and it is below -37°C in December and January. In winter it is cold, damp and gloomy, and the sun does not rise.”1

Man riding a camel

A group of people watching a shaman beating a drum

Of course, I didn’t have to just glance along my bookshelves to find relevant material. Everything related with EAP is open access and this includes the publication From Dust to Digital: Ten Years of the Endangered Archives Programme2. Chapter 15 is co-written by the EAP016 project holders -David Anderson, Mikhail Batashev and Craig Campbell and focusses on one of the photographers included in their project, Ivan Ivanovich Baluev - a staff photographer based at the Krasnoyarsk Territory Regional Museum.

Main street of a small trading town

Two men dressed in fur sitting either side of a ritual site

Three boys around a large table doing school work

As I was reading, it dawned on me just how impressive Baluev and other explorers were to capture life in Siberia towards the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, when they only had the option of using (presumably dry collodion) glass plate negatives – and the resulting images are so beautiful. The five collections of photographs, that constitute EAP016, show the day-to-day lives of indigenous peoples of the Siberian Arctic and Subarctic and having seen the examples in this blog, I am sure you will agree they are captivating.

Two girls sitting on a sled

Fisherman looking at his catch in a net

Boat stacked with many barrels. Several man look at the camera.

As this is one of our earliest projects, we did not ask for detailed catalogue entries as we would now. These wonderful photographs do not have individual descriptions and as a result, they are not fully discoverable on our website.

Man sitting by a log cabin and playing a stringed instrument

High-ranking woman standing by horse with embroidered saddle cloths

Two men stand by sled pulled by reindeer. In background long wooden building with balconyg

If you would also like to be transported from your current surroundings to the open landscape of Siberia, you can also help us identify what can be seen in each photograph at the same time. If you would like to take part, please click on this link and follow the instructions.

Many thanks

Close up of a man wearing a cap and looking through a camera viewer

Bibliography

1) Christian, D (1998) A History of Russia, Central Asia and Mongolia Volume 1 Blackwell Publishers, Oxford

2) Anderson, D, Batashev, M and Campbell, C (2015) ‘The photographs of Baluev: capturing the “socialist transformation” of the Krasnoyarsk northern frontier, 1938-19391’ in From Dust to Digital: Ten Years of the Endangered Archives Programme Open BookPublishers DOI: 10.11647/OBP.0052

 

Written by: Jody Butterworth, EAP curator