Ivan Boldyrev: Don Cossacks, 1875-76

Cossacks’ farewell at leaving for service

Ivan Vasilevich Boldyrev was born in 1850 in a Cossack family, in the village of Ternovskoe along the Don. Since his mother died early and his father served in the Tsar’s Cossack division, he grew up almost as an orphan in his grandfather’s house. Since his childhood he was fascinated by all mechanical structures, and after acquiring a watch, he learned without any help the profession of watchmaker. From then on he became the general fixer of the village, and with the money collected in this way he went to study to Novocherkassk at the age of 19. There he discovered photography which became his lifelong vocation. Through his exceptionally good photos he became famous far and wide, and this encouraged him to go to St. Petersburg in 1872 to study fine arts. Beside school he earned money as an assistant shopkeeper, but since this could not cover the cost of tuition, after a year he dropped out of school.

Ivan Vasilevich Boldyrev: Self-portrait

It was then that Vladimir Stasov, the great art historian and art critic, the director of the arts department of the Imperial Library, recognizing his talent, came to his help. He employed him in the library for cataloging photos, and he recommended him to the attention of all his high-ranking friends – including Tretyakov, the patron of arts after whom the gallery of Moscow is named –, so a clientele developed around him, assuring a modest livelihood.

Vladimir Stasov among his students. Photo by Ivan Vasilevich Boldyrev, 1886

However, Boldyrev first and foremost considered himself an inventor. Since he had no money for a camera, he produced one out of cardboard, whose lens was also prepared by him after thorough optical studies. With this lens – which was recognized by the Russian Imperial Technical Committee both in 1878 and 1889 as “the best commercially available one” – he made his excellent photos. In addition, being dissatisfied with the basic material of contemporary photography, the difficult and fragile glass negative, already in 1878 he developed the flexible film which he used thereafter. However, he had no money to patent it, so it was George Eastman’s American company, the Eastman Kodak which launched it two years later on its way to conquer the world.

The members of the Technical Committee examine Boldyrev’s lins. Photo by Ivan Vasilevich Boldyrev with the same lens, 11 April 1878

Boldyrev’s photos were in demand, and they survived in a large number of collections. The greatest interest, in the spirit of the then trendy “turn to people”, surrounded the few dozens of pictures taken in 1875-76 in his native place and the nearby Cossack villages and published under the title “Don Album”. These images are the most authentic documents of contemporary Cossack society, unique pictures by a photographer who, having grown up among them, exactly knew every detail of their lives and even many of the persons represented on the photos. The pictures quickly became very popular, and contributed to a great extent to the beginning of the photo expeditions recording Russian rural life, which would reach their peak around the turn of the century with Dmitry Ermakov’s photo travels in the Caucasus or with Prokudin-Gorsky’s monumental Russian photo expeditions.

In 1952-53 the settlements photographed by Boldyrev were forever covered by the water of the Don reservoir. Now these villages can be seen only in these pictures.

Old Cossack selling wine of Tsimlyanskoe

1 comentario:

Effe dijo...

So here they are, at last, the terrible Cossacks with their horses and swords and spears.
I have just imagined them, since now, reading Šolochov.
Don’t esitate, Studiolum, and keep on telling history and good stories. We just need it.