Visu­al Arts

Pho­tograph­ing the Jew­ish Nation: Pic­tures From S. An-Sky’s Ethno­graph­ic Expeditions

Eugene M. Avrutin, et al.
  • Review
By – September 16, 2011

Shly­ome-Zan­vl Rap­poport, known by his pen-name S. An-Sky (1863 – 1920), was not only the father of Jew­ish anthro­pol­o­gy and folk­lore,” but also the uncle of Jew­ish visu­al ethnography. 

He took his nephew, Solomon Boriso­vich Iudovin (1892 – 1954), then a young man of 20, with him on his ethno­graph­ic expe­di­tion to Voly­nia, Podolia, and Kiev provinces as the expe­di­tion pho­tog­ra­ph­er. Iudovin took over 2000 pho­tographs, most of which An-Sky deposit­ed, togeth­er with the rest of the mate­r­i­al he col­lect­ed dur­ing the three research sea­sons in 1912 – 1914, in the muse­um of the Jew­ish His­tor­i­cal- Ethno­graph­ic Soci­ety (JHES) in St. Peters­burg. How­ev­er, appar­ent­ly, Iudovin gave a por­tion of the pho­tographs, for safe keep­ing, to the painter Natan Isae­vich Al’tman (1889 – 1970). Upon his death, the the­ater design­er Alexan­der Paster­nak moved to his stu­dio and there he found a trove of 350 pho­tographs. He showed them to Ali­na Orlov who con­duct­ed research for a biog­ra­phy of Al’tman, and she, in turn, con­sult­ed with Vik­tor Kel’ner and Valerii Dymshits, both from Peters­burg Judaica, a research cen­ter affil­i­at­ed with the Euro­pean Uni­ver­si­ty at St. Peters­burg. They real­ized their prove­nence and val­ue, acquired them for the insti­tu­tion and includ­ed them in a five vol­ume col­lec­tion Fotoarkhiv eks­ped­it­sii An-sko­go (St. Peters­burg, 2005 – 2007). The 169 pho­tographs in the present vol­ume are tak­en from this col­lec­tion, and they are accom­pa­nied by six infor­ma­tive and inter­pre­tive essays by mem­bers of the Peters­burg Judaica. The pho­tographs are of utmost impor­tance. They include por­traits, some as mug-shots for anthro­po­log­i­cal doc­u­men­ta­tion, crafts­men staged at their works, teach­ers and chil­dren in tra­di­tion­al schools and views of shtetl homes and squares. An-Sky set out on his expe­di­tion to dis­cov­er and recov­er the Jew­ish folk cul­ture and tra­di­tions in order to make them avail­able for mod­ern Jew­ish artists as build­ing blocks for the cre­ation of mod­ern nation­al Jew­ish cul­ture. 170 photographs.

Bat­she­va Ben-Amos has two Ph.D.s, one in soci­ol­o­gy from the U. of Penn­syl­va­nia, the oth­er in clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gy from Hah­ne­mann University/​Hospital. In 2007, she received a fel­low­ship for The Sum­mer Insti­tute on the Holo­caust and Jew­ish Civ­i­liza­tion at North­west­ern University.

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