Images of an Empire
Object from the exhibition "Images of an Empire"
Life in Pre-revolutionary Russia
Sun, April 23, 2006 – Sun, August 06, 2006

From the 1860s to 1870s, Russian photographers commissioned by the Czar, attempted to use the photographic medium, which was new at the time, in a systematic way to depict life in the Russian Empire: various social classes, different peoples, landscapes, cities, industrial projects, traditions, war events, and prisons. Because photography was usually used in narrow private or commercial contexts, these photo projects create an interesting exception in social history as their goal was to portray the entire country. In a certain sense, these projects function as a visual continuation of that era’s Russian realist literature represented by authors such as Tolstoy, Turgeniev, and Goncharov. Although these projects were supported and sponsored by various official offices, they cast an objective, and realistic gaze on pre-Revolutionary Russia that is void of illusion—a view aiming to be purely descriptive and scientific.
This Russian social photography history was hitherto unknown. Leaving the archives for the first time are more than 300 extremely high-quality photos (in part, fine-grained prints of large glass negatives developed in a wet-plate collodium process) from five Russian museums including the State Historical Museum, Russian State Library (Moscow), Russian Museum of Ethnography (St. Petersburg), and two private lenders. Not only have they never been shown in the West, but they have also never been presented—at least in these dimensions—in Russia. Thereby, in addition to granting insight into nineteenth-century Russian life, the exhibition’s main aim is to open up what remains a little-known epoch in photography’s developmental history.

Exhibitions team

Anastasia Khoroshilova (Assistant)

Organization / Institution
ZKM | Medienmuseum