Hudaibergen Divanov, First Central Asian Photographer

Hudaibergen Divanov - First Central Asian Photographer

Hudaibergen Divanov (1878-1938), the first well-known Uzbek photographer, was born in the Khorezm region, where his father was secretary to the Khivan Khan. The young Divanov was given a camera by a German craftsman, Penner, who had been moved from the Volga region into the town of Aq Meschit. Divanov began taking landscape photographs and portraits of his family in 1903, but soon came into conflict with the religious authorities of the town. They complained to Muhammad Rahim II, Khan of Khiva, that Divanov’s photography was incompatible with Muslim teachings. Divanov’s father defended him and encouraged his work. In response, the Khan asked Divanov to take his portrait. (Muhammad Rahim was a literate, well-educated, and exceptionally open-minded ruler. A poet, he had established the first mechanical printing of Uzbek literature in Turkestan in 1875.)  The Khan was satisfied with the resulting portrait. The ruler quieted the clergy, and gave Divanov a job at the Khivan mint. Divanov also acted as official photographer to the court. When the Khan sent a mission led by his Vizier to St. Petersburg in 1907, Divanov accompanied it and was allowed to study photography there for two months. He returned to Khiva with a Pathé film camera, a gramophone, and new camera apparatus.
Divanov also supplied materials to commercial photo studios. For the most part, his work has a quiet, unobtrusive character – the viewer feels that he is an unnoticed participant in the scenes of agriculture, canal building, and village meetings. There is also a very traditional, undisturbed feel to the environment in which the photographs were made; Divanov’s photographs of the teens and twenties could have been taken in the late nineteenth century – except for the paper and the written date. In part this is because his subjects were the people and events of a small provincial capital. Khiva and its environs had a population of only 30,000 in 1900.  Life in the town had changed little in comparison to the larger cities of Turkestan. Divanov’s prints are generally small in size. Often a date and description of the activities depicted is written in Persian or Turki directly onto the negative.
Divanov held a variety of posts; he served as Minister of Finance of the Khorezm Republic; in 1910 he was the first cameraman at the first Uzbek film studio,  and later taught at the Pedagogical Technical College. He became suspect during the years of Stalin’s terror, and was shot in 1938, but was posthumously “rehabilitated” in 1958 on Stalin’s death.