Mostly Chukotka, Russia: 1926-1933 and 1957-1960. 8 3/8” x 11½”. String tied faux leather over boards. 76 pages with 113 black and white photographs inserted into corner mounts, 22 pages are blank. Most photos measure from 3” x 4” to 3½” x 5”; the majority are captioned in Russian, and a translation is provided. Album very good with moderate wear and a replaced string tie, photos generally very good plus or better with several lacking.
This album depicts the Russian Far East, specifically Chukotka, Magadan, and probably the greater Magadan Oblast region. They were compiled by someone working in the region as part of the Soviet Union's attempts to bring the area into its fold, count its populace, and turn the native peoples into Soviet citizens.
At least 51 photos depict the Chukotka area from 1926 to 1931. The album begins with an image of the entrance to Providence Bay on the southern coast of the Chukchi Peninsula of northeastern Siberia. Next we see a small outpost of buildings in Lavrentiya, taken in 1931 which is almost certainly its Kultbaza, or “cultural station.” Lavrentiya was founded in 1927 or 1928, with a Kultbaza established in 1928. Kultbazas were supposed to have a hospital, veterinary center, a school, a museum, science labs and a place for native peoples to gather, though we can't tell from these images how far along Lavrentiya's was at the time. An important role of the Kultbaza was to indoctrinate local natives into the Soviet belief system. As notes in the album mention the compiler was involved in census taking, we think he or she was an ethnographer involved with the Kultbaza. Either way, according to Yuri Slezkine in “Arctic Mirrors: Russia and the Small Peoples of the North,” (Cornell University Press, 1994), the compiler's life was exceptionally harsh as one who was there reported, “try to spend a whole year as a nomad . . . in fifty below zero weather; endless blizzards that for days on end prevent you from venturing outside; no chance to wash yourself; and long weeks without taking off your coat, filled with lice.”
At least 24 photos show native peoples or their lifestyles. One image shows children standing outside a school in Chaplino (now known as Novoye Chaplino) in 1926 and another shows a Chuckchi ice fishing. We see two men with a recently killed walrus at Cape Schmidt and there's an outstanding four shot series of the building of a yaranga in Uelen. Another shows several people taking shelter under a large canoe in Cape Dezhnev. There's also one small image of a Chuckchi fair. Several show Uelen in 1926 and 1927 and include a man working a dogsled team as well as a shot of its meteorological station and and one showing skulls and other bones at a grave. Captions for at least two photos in the earlier part of the album mention the photographer as T.Z. Semushkin. We believe this to be the famous Russian writer Tikhon Z. Semushkin who participated in the first Soviet expeditions to Chukotka in the 1920s, and stayed in the Russian Far East until the early 1930s.
The album then jumps to the late 1950s with a shot of Cape Vorochilov in the Laptev Sea as well as photos in Yakutia in 1957. More than one photo here mentions the building of a road and several of the images are of landscapes with a few showing workers out in the tundra. Several show the workers at their camps and one mentioned that the tops of trees were dying.
This section is followed by a multishot panorama of the northwest portion of Magadan measuring 4½” x 30½”. From 1932 to 1953, Magadan was the administrative center of the Dalstroy organization, a forced labor gold mining operation and many political prisoners were sent to Magadan on their way to forced labor camps. There's a smaller panorama and a few other large shots of the city as well.
In addition to its value as documentation of a remote part of the world and its peoples, the album may have been compiled by someone who spent time as a political prisoner. A handwritten note in the middle of the album mentions the photos show Chukotka during the 1926-1927 census as well as “Magadan region during F.M.'s work there, with interruptions. From the 1930s till June 1941 and from 1955 upon rehabilitation till his retirement in 1960.” This mention of rehabilitation combined with the images of Magadan lead us to believe the compiler and/or those associated with the compiler, were political prisoners at some point during Stalin's regime.
Important documentation of the Soviet Union's attempts to modernize its Arctic inhabitants. Item #3434