For weeks I have been planning this trip. Today I finally make up my mind, so I would not miss it before Iran. It’s twenty minutes from here by bike. Kantstraße 76, Hedayat Bookshop, named after the Persian Kafka. The door is closed, I have to wave through the window to the owner speaking on the phone inside, to let me in. A rich selection of Iranian books, both in Persian and in German. “In the Saless bookstore of Tehran they recommended that I come and look around.” “Oh yes, we are in constant contact. So this is the bookstore, there, to the right, our publisher, Gardoon Verlag. And here we have courses twice a week.” “A language course?” Oh no. A writing course, for Persians. A new generation of writers is being formed here in Berlin, some of their books are also published by us.” Thirty years ago, Abbas Maroufi was sentenced to twenty lashes in Iran, he left the country then, and settled permanently in Berlin. Many of his books are on display, including four in German. “Which on do you love most?” “Peykar-e Farhad, “Farhad’s mirror”, in German Die dunkle Seite. You know this famous writing of Hedayat, where the protagonist tells about how he tries to reach a woman. In this, the woman tells the same story from her viewpoint. But the readers love most the Symphonie der Toten. This is a Persian Cain and Abel story, in four symphonic movements, with an ouverture.” “I’ll take both. I’m curious about them.” I also add Nasser Kanani’s Traditionelle persische Kunstmusik, also edited by them. The cashier generously rounds down, and even gives me one more book. “This is a gift, my latest book. نامهای عاشقانه, Namehâye eshghâne, “Love letters”, all in verse, you see. The poems set in normal letters are the letters of the woman, those in bold of the man.” “Kheyli mamnum, khoda hâfez, thank you very much, God bless you.” Khâkhesh mikonam, don’t mention it, the honor is mine.” As he accompanies me to the door, he cries out: “What luck! Professor Kanani is just coming in.” Such a meeting is not unusual in the fifty-thousand-strong Persian quarter of Berlin. The professor turns around. “This gentleman is interested in Persian music. He has just bought your book.” “Really?” The professor looks touched and somewhat incredulously at me. “Are you really interested in Persian classical music?” He reaches out his hand. “Viel Spaß.

The best painting of Kamal-ol-Molk

Kamal-ol-Molk (with a stick) among his students at the Academy of Fine Arts in Tehran

Kamal-ol-Molk, the most renowned Persian painter of the late 19th century – in whose house we will stay in Kashan – captivated his audience mainly with his genre pictures. The style introduced by him was, so to speak, the counterpart of European Orientalism. While the latter crammed the large and luxurious spaces of romantic and academic painting with the exciting motifs of the mysterious Orient, Kamal-ol-Molk made the customary small and intimate pictures for Persian homes, which had clear colors, only a few figures, and no image depth, more attractive for a Persian audience increasingly receptive to European culture. He used art techniques acquired in Italy, the realistically shaped bodies, representations of the states of mind reflected on the faces, and European perspective. It is no coincidence that reproductions of his paintings, preserved in the formal imperial collections – The fortune-teller, The Jewish hucksters, Goldsmiths in Baghdad, Musicians, Noruz festival and the rest – are still common decorations in homes and public spaces alike.

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But one picture surpasses all the rest in popularity. In this, a bearded old man is sitting and smoking his pipe at a modestly laid table. We encounter this painting again and again in every city, on the walls of private rooms, workshops and cafés, and even on the shop signs of tea houses and restaurants. And what is even more surprising, the picture has been completely folklorized. They freely change and complement it in the individual reproductions to their preference, showing a hookah in the coffee houses, and with a lavishly laid table in the restaurants, depending on what is needed in the actual place.

The historic little town of Masuleh along the Caspian Sea

Shiraz, restaurant in the bazaar

Qom, restaurant along the highway

Kashan, restaurant next to the historical houses

The popularity of the picture was undoubtedly bolstered by the fact that it plays an important symbolic role in one of the most important Iranian films of the last two decades, Life and nothing more (or, as it is known in Europe, And life goes on, 1992) by Abbas Kiarostami. This film is a continuation of the first really successful film by the then fifty-year-old Kiarostami, Where is the friend’s house? (1987), which we also mentioned. In the second film, the actor playing Kiarostami and his son travel from Tehran in a battered car up to the mountains of Gilan, just a few days after the earthquake that caused fifty thousand casualties, to learn whether the two young protagonists of the previous film in the village of Koker survived the catastrophe. Along with the presentation of destruction and mourning, the film, as its title suggests, primarily lets you feel the great strength and determination the survivors as they work to make the houses inhabitable again and the villages liveable, to make new families as soon as possible, so life can again go on. The film had a veritable therapeutic effect in Iran, and this treatment of the tragedy gave enormous encouragement and strength to the entire society. It is no coincidence that Kiarostami soon made a third successful film, Through the olive trees (1994), based on the meticulous analysis of one key scene in And life goes on. These three films, often called by critics “The Koker trilogy” because of the common location, is considered to be the most outstanding of Kiarostami’s works, is still well known in Iran, and its impact is palpable on the whole of Iranian cinema.

One of the climaxes of And life goes on is almost exactly in the middle of the film, when the main character stops in a ruined village, and slowly studies the remains of the houses, which are beautiful even in ruins, with the green Gilani mountains in the background. On a porch which has remained intact, he looks long at this reproduction of Kamal-ol-Molk, which was cut almost in the middle by a huge crack running from the top to the bottom of the wall, but despite this, the old man keeps on smoking just as peacefully, as if nothing had happened. The beauty and power of this scene offers a key to the whole film. It is no coincidence that this picture was put on the poster of the film, which after twenty years still can be seen in many clubs or bookstores. I photographed it in a CD shop on Vali-Asr Avenue.

It is therefore surprising, that while the image plays such an important role in the visual culture of modern Iran, and whomever you ask will consider it the best painting by Kamal-ol-Molk, nevertheless you won’t find it in any album or on any website dedicated to the master. You have to search long on the Persian web, before you find a little story, which is variously formulated on different sites:

“Around 1940, two photographers went to the town of Maragh next to Kashan to take photos of the atmosphere of the landscape, the people, and the mausoleum of Baba Afzal. They had lunch in the tea house of the village, where an old man, who had just finished his modest lunch, lit his pipe. They took a photo of him as well, and returned to Tehran. Only after the development of the photo they discovered how beautiful it was, and they put it on the studio wall.
Not long after the owner of the Laleh café went to the studio to have himself photographed. He saw on the wall the picture of the old man with the pipe, the tea and the rest of the lunch on the table. He liked it, purchased it, and hung it on the wall of his café.
The photo hung on the wall for years, until one day a painter came to the café to drink a cup of coffee and smoke a cigarette. He liked the photo, and immortalized it in painting.
It took only a few years, and the painting was copied all over the country, on pictures, posters and shop signs, on the walls of tea houses, cafés and restaurants, in every city and along the roads…”

The story has been just as noticeably folklorized as the image. The Laleh – Tulip – café, the famous coffee house of pre-revolutionary Tehran has long since closed, so we will never know how the original photograph looked, which was so attractive to the painter that he converted it into a painting in the manner of Kamal-ol-Molk, and he even added to it the signature of the master. Or will we?

This photo was taken in 1907 by the Lumière brothers with the autochrome process patented by them in the same year. It is obvious that this pipe-smoking and wine-drinking Parisian old man had to be the model of the “Persianized” painting.

That is, the best painting of Kamal-al-Molk, the national painter, is not his own work, and not even an individual work, but a collective creation. It does not even have an authentic original, and this is why it could be folklorized and adapted in so many versions. Its birth was due to the reception of a European model and its adjustment to Persian patterns, and its popularity to the fact that it appears as an anonymous work and a collective symbol in a key scene of one of the most important movies about the issues of Iranian fate. All this together makes it truly Iranian, a work of such style and significance, that if Kamal-ol-Molk had seen it, he would surely authenticate it with his own signature.

The story could end here, the mystery solved. But, fortunately, every mystery solved creates a new one begging for resolution. The configuration of the pipe, the wine and the old man with a large white beard incites our visual memory. What does it remind us of? We got it. That early visual parallel where the two old gentlemen in József Rippl-Rónai’s My father and Uncle Piacsek drinking red wine (1907) are sitting in exactly the same pose as the two old Galician Jews in Alter Kacyzne’s photo twenty years later. The photo of the Lumière brothers, although it was made in the same year as Rippl-Rónai’s painting, is clearly not a model of any of the two. Nevertheless, its figure seems to perform the role of both old men at once: his pose is similar to the one at the left, his pipe to that on the right side. And if you really want, you can also bring into this Hungarian-Jewish-French-Persian conjunction a later (1936) sketch by Kamal-ol-Molk himself, where a big-bearded old man is reading in the pose of the left side figure. Are these mere visual coincidences? Or an unconscious pictorial topos, an iconologic formula of the period? And the mystery goes on.

József Rippl-Rónai: My father and Uncle Piacsek drinking red wine, 1907

“Byale (Biała Podlaska, Lublin province), 1926. Father and son. To protect himself from the
Evil One, Leyzer Bawół, the blacksmith, will not say how old he is, but he must be
over one hundred. Now his son does the smithing and the old man has become
a doctor. He sets broken arms and legs.” Photo by Alter Kacyzne

Abraham Ganz at the Hindukush

Широка страна моя родная, a spacious land is Russia, there is room in it for all peoples. As Araz pointed out in yesterday’s post the photos of Azerbaijan from the Russian imperial photo project of Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky, so I checked and found at least two Hungarian-related photos among the 1902 color pictures digitized by the Library of Congress.

A search for “Hungary” in the database yields one single photo. Its original caption has not survived, but, on the advice of electrical engineer Paul Cooper and foreign area officer Martin Chadzynski, the librarians provided it with the title: “Alternators made in Budapest, Hungary, in the power generating hall of a hydroelectric station in Iolotan on the Murghab river (between 1905 and 1915)”.

This photo in the catalog of the Library of Congress is the result of the automatic reconstruction of 2004 by Blaise Agüeras y Arcas. The other version is the hand-made reconstruction, made in 2001 by Walter Frankhausen.

The Hindukush hydroelectric power station of Iolotan was built in 1909 on the Murghab river, in Transcaspia (Закаспийская область), that is, in the south-east part of modern Turkmenistan. In 1887, Tsar Alexander III purchased from Turkmen tribes here, next to the ancient city of Merv (today a World Heritage Site), a vast desert land, to establish there the modern successor of the legendary fertile Oasis of Merv. By moving khokhol – Ukrainian – settlers to the Tsar’s estates, they established a huge modern model economy, a kind of a Technopolis, with extended irrigation, thriving cotton processing and other industries. The Hindukush power plant, which, with its production of 1350 kW, was the hydroelectric plant with the highest output in tsarist Russia, was built to provide the area with electricity. (As a comparison, in 1917, the combined output of the thousands of hydroelectric plants in Russia was 19 MW.)

The Hindukush power plant on a postcard sent on 24 January 1911. From the “Sights of Turkestan” series

Prokudin-Gorsky visited the region twice, first in 1906-1907, then in 1911. From the Merv district, we have 68 of his photos: besides the ruins of the ancient city of Merv and the ethnographic pictures of the Turkmen herders, we find mainly images of the cotton lands, cotton processing plants, and the hydroelectric plant. This latter, which he obviously was able to shoot only on the 1911 expedition, is represented by six photos in the Library of Congress. Since the registration album that was composed after the expedition has not survived, the catalog of the Library of Congress does not include the location of most of the photos. They were identified by “The Legacy of Prokudin-Gorsky” International Project.

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In the Hungary of that time, only the Ganz Works was capable of producing such a powerful alternator. The company was founded in 1845 by the Swiss Abraham Ganz as an iron foundry and machine factory, whose original building in Buda has been open since 1964 as a museum. In 1869 his successor, András Mechwart, expanded the company with an electric department, and made it a world-renowned enterprise and one of the largest group of companies in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. The Ganz and Co. Danubius Electric, Machine, Wagon and Ship Factory, Ltd. delivered machines across Europe and Asia. In Odessa, I myself have seen old ship cranes manufactured by them. After the war, the company was nationalized, and in 1959, it merged with the neighboring locomotive and wagon factory as Ganz-MÁVAG. In my childhood, this district-large building block in Kőbánya, the industrial outskirts of Budapest, was a city-within-the-city, which gave jobs to a significant number of local workers. We have already quoted the Song of Lenin by its choir and orchestra. Then, with the change of regime in 1989, the company was shut down and sold at a loss to foreign investors in the name of so-called privatization, in which I myself took part as an interpreter for Italian investors. Ever since then, the building block has served as the largest Chinese market of Europe. Its most valuable part is the small Chinese eatery which I still consider, after so many years, to be one of the best places to get Chinese cuisine in Budapest.

The Hindukush hydroelectric power plant of Joloten, however, was not shaken by the change of regime. It has continuously worked for more than a century with its original equipment, about which in 2011, just a hundred years after Prokudin-Gorsky’s photos, tinmekun published a photo series on yandex.ru. It is clear that nothing has changed in the engine room. The same floor tiles, the same division of the windows, the same machinery, the same glaring lights on the floor. And the brass plaque also has the same inscription as a hundred years ago.

Ганцовская электр[отехническая] комп[анія] въ Будапештѣ – Ganz Electric Works, Budapest

By the way, the importation of Western state-of-the-art equipment was not a rare thing in tsarist Russia. In another photo by Prokudin-Gorsky, we see a sawing machine in the carpentry of the Zlatoust ironworks, which was produced, according to its brass label, in Berlin-Reinickendorf, just a couple of S-Bahn-stops from where I now write this. The factory of Reinickendorf still exists. I wonder if that of Zlatoust also exists, with the machine saw inside it.

About the other Hungary-related photo by Prokudin-Gorsky we will write in another post.

May Allah have mercy on you, Prokudin-Gorsky

Some of our super-knowledgeable kinsmen, hearing this “Allah rəhmət eləsin”, probably will hurry to say “he, being non-Muslim, doesn’t qualify for rəhmət”. However, this expression in our language takes its roots from Arabic “رحمة الله عليه”, that is a wish “May Allah have mercy on him” about somebody who has passed away. And this wish has already reached its destination – the all-hearing and the all-seeing the most merciful of all-merciful –, so there is no place for further needless words.

Mirza Jalil also started his story entitled “Qurbanəli bəy” in 1907 with the epigraph “Qoqol, Allah sənə rəhmət eləsin” i.e. “Gogol, may Allah have mercy on you”. It is evident that the criticizing, satirical writings by the classic author of Russian literature Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol (1809-1852) had a big influence on the oeuvre of Jalil Mammadguluzade (1869-1932) and stimulated the birth of the “Molla Nəsrəddin” literary school.

Sergey Mikhaylovich Prokudin-Gorsky (1863-1944) is considered to be one of the world’s pioneers of color photography. The reason we wish him “rəhmət is that he is the creator of probably the first known color photos of Azerbaijan and Azerbaijanis.

Who was Prokudin-Gorsky?

It is interesting that the Prokudin-Gorsky family has its roots in the Tatar grand duke Murza Musa (1350-?), who together with his sons came to the Duchy of Moscow from the Golden Horde and adopted Orthodox Christianity and the name of Pyotr. So the crescent and star on the family coat of arms is a reference to those Tatar roots, while the symbolic depiction of a river is a reference to the Nepryadva, a tributary of the Don river, and to participation in the Battle of Kulikovo. It is said that in this 1380 battle, which resulted in the victory of grand duke Dmitry‘s (1350-1389) troops over Mamai khan’s (1335-1381) army, Pyotr lost all his sons. Prince Dmitry, who earned the nickname Donskoy, i.e. of the Don, after this victory, married Pyotr to a princess of the Rurik dynasty called Mariya and favoured him with ancestral lands called Gora (“mountain” in Russian) for his alacrity. So the family name Gorsky began with Pyotr Gorsky, while his grandson Prokopy Alfyorovich (1420-1450) was nicknamed Prokuda (among other words “prokaznik” – “prankish” in Russian), so his descendants were called Prokudin-Gorsky.

It is evident from Sergey Mikhaylovich Prokudin-Gorsky’s short biography that until 1890, which was when he was 27, he was being educated in very different disciplines. From 1883-86 he studied in the Alexander Lyceum, from 1886-88 he read lectures in natural sciences at the department of physics-mathematics of Saint Petersburg University, from 1888-90 he was a student at the Imperial Military-Medical Academy, taking painting classes at Imperial Academy of Arts, took a serious interest in playing the violin, but never completed his formal education in any of these places. At Saint Petersburg University one of Sergey Mikhaylovich‘s teachers was the famous scientist Dmitri Mendeleev (1834-1907), and it is said that it was this teacher who initiated his interest in chemistry and photography.

Along the Skuritskhali river. Self-portait. Study at Orta-Batum. 1912. Source: The Library of Congress.

Prokudin-Gorsky became a member of the section dealing with the technology of chemistry, and later that of photography, of the Imperial Russian Technical Society, and from 1897 on he gave lectures on his photographic experiments. In 1901 he opened his “photo-zinkographic and photo-technical studio” in Petersburg. In 1902, while traveling in Germany, he studied with the leading researchers of color photography, especially of Adolf Miethe (1862-1927), and acquired cutting edge technical equipment. The first color photo had been demonstrated way back in 1861. The “color separation” principle used in it proposed taking a photo with red, green and blue filters, and then, during the demonstration, projecting these pictures over each other through the corresponding filters. One of the main problems was the development of photo-emulsions that would have provide a correct rendering of colors, and Prokudin-Gorsky made his contribution in the research in this field.

Prokudin-Gorsky’s three-color projector and the process of projection. Victor Minachin’s design from the exhibition The World of 1900-1917 In Color.

In the following years he arranges color photo-projection demonstrations, travels to different regions of the empire for photo-shoots, organizes the printing of color postcards in his studio. Prokudin-Gorsky becomes even more famous by taking the color photo of the 80-year-old living master of Russian literature Lev Tolstoy (1828-1910) in 1908. He was often invited to receptions and gatherings of high society for the demonstration of his color photo-projections.

“Dear Lev Nikolaevich,
Not long ago I had the occasion to develop a color photographic plate which someone had taken of you (I forgot the person's name). The result was extremely bad, since, apparently, the photographer was not well acquainted with his task.
Photography in natural colors is my specialty, and it is possible that you might have come across my name by chance in print. At the present time, after many years of work, I have been able to achieve an excellent reproduction of images in true colors. My color slide projections are as well known in Europe as they are in Russia.
At this time, now that the process of taking photographs using my method and my plates requires from one to three seconds, I permit myself to ask your permission for me to visit for one or two days (keeping in mind the state of your health and the weather), thereby in order to take several color pictures of you and your spouse…
It seems to me that, by reproducing your image in true color and its surroundings, I will perform a service to the whole world. These images are everlasting – they do not change. No painted reproduction can achieve such results.

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky”

“Village cemetery”. Color postcard from the studio of Prokudin-Gorsky, post stamp 19 January 1907. Source: Library of Congress

A special demonstration for the Emperor Nicholas II and his family in May 1909 gave a critical boost to the researcher’s creative work. Amazed by the color images, the emperor ordered to grant to Sergey Mikhaylovich the transportation expenses and permissions necessary to document in natural colors all the places of interest in Russia. After a few weeks, Prokudin-Gorsky already began his first expedition. He planned to take ten thousand color photos in ten years. Despite financial difficulties, world war and revolutions, Sergey Mikhaylovich collected valuable photographic materials while traveling to different provinces, including several times to Turkestan and the Caucasus, while also working on color cinematography. In 1917 the Romanov dynasty was overthrown, and soon the Bolshevik revolution took place. By that time there were already about 3,500 photos in Prokudin-Gorsky’s unique collection.

Prokudin-Gorsky on a handcar outside Petrozavodsk on the Murmansk railway, 1915. Source: Library of Congress

Prokudin-Gorsky emigrates from Soviet Russia at the first opportunity. In 1918 he is sent on a mission to Norway and never comes back. Later he lives in England, and in France from 1921 until 1944 i.e. the end of his life. Interestingly, the researcher was able to get permission for taking a part of the collection, that is 2,300 negatives, to France. More than 1,200 negatives and more than 1,000 color slides that were left in Soviet Russia, as well as about 400 negatives stored in France are considered lost. In 1948 the US Library of Congress buys from Prokudin-Gorsky’s sons what they have left from the collection. The collection currently preserved in the library consists mainly triple-frame negatives of 1,902 photos. In addition, 14 registration albums contain small black and white copies of these photos with explanations.

These precious historical documents were unknown to the wider public for many years. In 2000 the collection was digitized and put up for open access on the Library of Congress website.

Instagram Azerbaijan, 1912

There are tens of photos related to Azerbaijan in the Prokudin-Gorsky collection. One can learn where they were taken and what they depict, from the explanatory titles under the small black and white “thumbnail” images in the registration photo album entitled “Views in the Caucasus and Black Sea area”.

Page 33 of the “Views in the Caucasus and Black Sea area” album. Source: The Library of Congress.

Most of the images were made in the Mughan steppe in 1912 and are registered on pages 33-38 of the 44-page album. The series starts with the photo “Река Араксъ у Саатлы. Мугань” i.e. “The Aras River near Saatly. Mughan” and mainly depicts cotton farming around Nikolayevsk, Grafovka and Petropavlovsk (today’s Sabirabad, renamed in 1931), where Ukrainian peasants from Kharkov province were settled. By the way, back in 1899 the founder of the Azerbaijani press, the eminent intellectual Hasan Bey Zardabi (1837-1907) mentioned these settlements in his “Kaspi” newspaper article.

Page 38 of the “Views in the Caucasus and Black Sea area” album. Source: The Library of Congress.

Only few of these photos depict people. The picture titled “Персидские татары. Саатлы. Мугань” i.e. “Persian Tatars. Saatly. Mughan” may be regarded as the first color photo of Azerbaijanis known in history. While for many of us color photos appeared in our home albums only in 1980s, the two men in the picture had their color photos taken in the beginning of the century. Although they do not seem pleased by this historic moment. They probably never had the chance to see their color picture, either. Had the Library of Congress not digitized this unique collection and posted it for open access on the internet, probably we would not have the chance, either.

The reconstructed color image of the “Persian Tatars. Saatly. Mughan” photo (left) and the digital file of its triple negative (right, from top to bottom – the images for blue, green and red filter). Source: The Library of Congress.

I saw this picture back in 2010 while in America when I was searching in the Prokudin-Gorsky collection at the library website, but searching for the word “Azerbaijan” seemed to yield only few pictures at that time. The Library of Congress ordered reconstructions of 122 images by the photographer Walter Frankhauser in 2001 for the exhibition named “The Empire That Was Russia”. The reconstruction of the color images, using high resolution digital files of the preserved triple negatives, scanned in 2000, is far from a trivial task.

At the time, three separate image for each photograph were produced for different colors. During the time that passed between taking the shots, in addition to shaking of the negative plate, the photographed subjects moved, too. Various physical defects in the glass negative plates also created difficulties for reconstruction. The photo above depicting Prokudin-Gorsky at a riverside is one of the pictures reconstructed by Frankhausen. Only one of the pictures taken in Azerbaijan – the photo entitled “Mughan. The family of a settler. Grafovka settlement” was reconstructed for the exhibition.

Later, in 2004, the Library of Congress contracted Blaise Agüera y Arcas to perform automated restoration-reconstruction of all the color photos. By the way, as a prominent computer graphics professional, Arcas was in the news in 2013 for taking a job at Google after seven years in leading positions at Microsoft. According to him, along with the “rigid alignment” of the three negatives, the “warpfield alignment” method, which yields better results by deforming different parts of the negatives differently, was employed, using software developed for reconstruction of the photos.

Surprisingly, in the reconstructed “Persian Tatars” photo that is stored in the online database of the Library of Congress, color ghosting is clearly visible because the negatives are not aligned well. It is especially evident when you look at the person on the right. However, as it was shot in bright sunlight, the exposure time of the shots and therefore the differences between three images had to be small, and also there are no serious defects visible on the negatives.

Not giving in to laziness, I opened the triple negative file in Photoshop, cut out its corresponding parts and pasted to the red, green and blue color channels in a new file. By doing just translations, that is by moving the images up-and-down or right-and-left, I aligned them over each other. Apparently for an ideal result you also need to do some slight rotations. But the resulting picture was satisfactory anyway. At the end I darkened the images in the red and green channels a little bit, the result is below.

A fragment of the reconstructed “Persian Tatars” photo. Left: the version of the Library of Congress. Middle: my version. Right: the version restored by V. Ratnikov.

Later I learned that, as part of several different projects researching the Prokudin-Gorsky heritage, the photos were reconstructed and posted on internet. But before that I had to eliminate a small inaccuracy in the Library of Congress catalog.

Researcher A. Yusubov

The titles for the pictures in the Library of Congress catalog are taken from the inscriptions beneath the corresponding black and white thumbnail images in the registration albums. Most probably, these albums were compiled by Prokudin-Gorsky and his assistants long after they were actually shot, since occasionally the titles do not match the pictures, or the chronological order is clearly violated.

Black and white image of the photo with an incorrect title at page 32 of the “Views in the Caucasus and Black Sea area” album (left) and the image of the Shirvanshahs’ Palace complex on the old ten thousand manat banknote, known as “shirvan” among common people (right). Source: The Library of Congress and BanknoteIndex.com.

Probably any Azerbaijani would testify that the image above depicts the mosque of the Shirvanshahs’ Palace, but this picture is placed among the Tiflis photos in the registration album and its title was registered incorrectly as “Мечеть въ Азiатской части Тифлиса”, that is “A mosque in the Asian part of Tiflis”. However, in the online catalog the title was corrected and the following is written in the notes “Corrected title information provided by Dmitry Vorona, 2013”.

Unfortunately, no color negative of this photo has survived until today, but it shows that Prokudin-Gorsky also shot in Baku. While browsing through the Caucasus album in the online catalog, on page 39 I saw a photo of the Philharmonic building well familiar to Baku dwellers. It turned out that, although there was no explanation regarding this picture in the album, its title was aligned with the title of another photo at the same page and was registered as “Mechetʹ v Vladikavkaze (Mosque in Vladikavkaz)”.

The reconstructed color image of the photo of the Philharmonic building (left) and the digital file of its triple negative (right). Source: The Library of Congress.

I immediately sent the following message, dated 25 March 2015, through the online form for reporting errors in the catalog on the library website:

There is no original title for the photo in Prokudin-Gorskii’s album, but the title was wrongly assigned apparently because of proximity to another photo of the Mosque in Vladikavkaz. 

This is in fact totally different building in a different city – Baku. Look at the rare aerial photo of 1918 Baku. The Summer Centre for Public Gatherings at the bottom right corner, opened in 1912 as a club for wealthy Baku elite, was architecturally inspired by l’Opéra de Monte-Carlo, and now houses the Azerbaijan State Philharmonic Hall named after Muslum Magomayev (1885-1937) – famous Azerbaijani and Soviet composer and conductor (see here). See here the modern look of the building.

And one day later I received the reply email below:

Dear Araz Yusubov: Thank you for your email about the caption for the image by Prokudin-Gorskii (item LC-P87-7277). You are correct that there is no title for the image in the album (LOT 10336) and that the title in the catalog record appears to be have assigned because it was close to the image of the mosque. The mosque is clearly not the same building as depicted in LC-P87-7277.

The building shown in LC-P87-7277 does look like the former Summer Centre for Public Gatherings in Baku, Azerbaijan which is shown in the aerial photo which you sent us. I have updated our database to incorporate your new information. The change should be in the online catalog within a few weeks.

Thank you very much for helping us correct and improve the information for this image in our catalog.

Best wishes,
Arden Alexander
Prints and Photographs Division Library of Congress

Thus, the title of this photo in the Library of Congress catalog now is indicated as “The Summer Centre for Public Gatherings, Baku, Azerbaijan”. There is also a small addition made in the notes section: “Title devised by Library staff. (Source: researcher A. Yusubov, 2015)”.

Other interesting links

“Цвет нации” (“Colors of the nation”) A 2014 Leonid Parfyonov documentary dedicated to Prokudin-Gorsky’s 150th anniversary (in Russian): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qx0TbbRC5RE

Many titles are corrected in the catalog of the reconstructed color photos on the website of the international research project “The Legacy of S.M. Prokudin-Gorsky”: http://prokudin-gorsky.org/

The color photos reconstructed as part of the “The Russian Empire in color photos” project of the Belorussian orthodox church: http://veinik.by/

The color photos restored by the laboratory of digital technologies for restoration of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the “Restavrator-M” center: http://www.prokudin-gorsky.ru/English/index.shtml

Prokudin-Gorsky: Self-portrait. Study at the Kivach waterfall. Below: A selection from the Prokudin-Gorsky Collection, primarily from the images less often reproduced on the internet

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Dagestan, village of Arakani