the turbulent years just before the revolution, Russian scientists
and explorers found unique opportunities for research in the exotic
eastern regions of the Russian Empire. Like the British in India,
the French in North Africa and Americans in the Wild West, Russia’s
rulers wished to document their new possessions, to join in the colonial
movement to photograph the entire world. The imperial imagination
was fired by the prospect of revealing things long-hidden from Western
eyes, from the ancient monuments of Samarkand to the ordinary rituals
of daily life of the inhabitants of the steppe. Despite sporadic uprisings
among the native population, well-entrenched colonial administrative
centers could provide secure home bases for archeological and ethnographic
expeditions to Central Asia. For the most daring explorers, it was
even possible to travel through the lands of the Turkoman, desert
horsemen who a few years before had lived by plundering caravans and
capturing unwary travelers for slaves.
Samuel Martinovich Dudin
was an anomaly even within this hardy group of explorer-academics.
Though honored in scientific circles he was an autodidact, a self-taught
photographer, archeologist, ethnographer and collector of artifacts
who had learned through fieldwork rather than university studies.
Trained as a painter under the artist Ilya Repin, Dudin had an extraordinary
eye and a passion for the art of many periods and cultures. Unlike
many of his academic colleagues, Dudin moved easily in a strange and
utterly foreign world. He devised new methods of research, following
potters and metal smiths through each step of their work in order
to understand the techniques of medieval craftsmen. He studied local
languages, especially the terminology of the makers of handicrafts.
Dudin made many important
acquisitions for Russian museums, among them, one of the finest collections
of tribal carpets in the world. Never content to rely on information
gathered secondhand, Dudin traveled to nomad encampments on the steppe
to learn directly from weavers. The results of his extensive journeys
in Central Asia between 1893 and 1915 are preserved in his numerous
published works, his paintings and drawings and in many hundreds of
glass negatives in Russian, German and Central Asian archives.
scientific and art photography in Russia has always been restricted
by the government, whether it be Tsarist or Soviet. Permits were required
for travel and official sanction for the taking of photographs in
sensitive areas. Government sponsored collections like the magnificent
albums commissioned by Governor General K.P. von Kaufman are characteristic
of the earliest photography in Russia’s colonial hinterlands. The
pioneer of early color photography, S.M. Prokudin-Gorski, traveled
to Central Asia between 1910 and 1915 under the direct orders of Tsar
In these circumstances,
it is no surprise to find the artist-photographer S.M. Dudin working
within the confines of scientific expeditions for Russian institutions.
Such official commissions allowed Dudin far greater freedom of movement
and choice of subject than would otherwise have been possible. The
work of 19th and early 20th century amateur
and studio photographers in the colonial centers is often artistically
accomplished and of substantive documentary interest, but only Dudin
was able to spend months, even years, taking photographs in the most
inaccessible regions of Central Asia.
Dudin worked as a scientist,
but saw everything with an artist’s eyes. He wrote of the territory
of the Yomud Turkoman, "After Krasnovodsk the landscape is soon replaced
by a lifeless and sun faded steppe. To the right there were rather
low, blue, sunburned hills, to the left -- in the distance you can
see the same endless steppe. There is either loam with spots of low
insignificant grey-green, yellow or rust-red grass or moving sands
covered with barkhans, sometimes reaching enormous heights and with
thickets of haloxylon and tamarisk. Here and there are flashes of
a flock of camels or a caravan, a rider in a shaggy black hat passes,
a group of yurts appear, ruins of an old fortress or a group of graven
tombs, and again flat steppe and steppe without edge or end."
Dudin’s landscapes are more
than documentary. He made stark and dramatic photographs of Central
Asia’s silt-laden rivers and bare hills as well as intimate, shadowed
studies of tree-lined villages, and the rough-cut meander of irrigation
canals. Formal composition is more important than the activities of
a small bazaar in a photograph of a street scene, where the cylinder
of an ancient, tiled tower thrusts out and above the shanty-like stalls.
Despite the inherent exoticism
of his subjects, Dudin’s photographs have an intimacy and immediacy
unusual in photography of the colonial period. "I do not add
anything to the composition of the scenes of the photograph. The ‘overcrowding’
that occurs in almost all photographs in our colonies, produces an
anti-artistic impression and increases an air of falsity. It is not
only that this photography savors of anecdote and affectation, it
is not photography from nature."
Dudin manages to avoid sentimentality
– and the orientalist vision - even in portraits of women. These are
working girls: weavers, musicians and nomads on the move, not languid
odalisques. Dudin’s commission to photograph native costume was difficult
to achieve in the cities, where women were secluded. He is said to
have found his female models in the ‘houses of entertainment’ near
the bazaar. His portraits of men are so direct and detailed, that
we know their characters. We have no need of labels to understand
their position in society. That is clear enough from their attitudes,
and from their costumes, whether they wear a camel driver’s rags,
a rich man’s silks or the calicos characteristic of day-to-day urban
dress. Dudin wrote, "Standing like soldiers, this is the very
worst for costumes, which are generally not designed for such tense,
still poses." In Dudin’s work we see Central Asia as it really
was, and know that what was recorded was truly characteristic of everyday
own life was a difficult one, in which good fortune and opportunity
were interlaced with catastrophic events. He was born in 1863 in Rovnoye
in the Ukraine, and educated at the Elizavetgrad School. Like many
idealistic students of the period, he joined a political-cultural
movement engaged in educating local peasants. Dudin became the group’s
artist-propagandist, translating revolutionary works into Ukrainian,
making posters and printing leaflets. In 1882 his school-based group
joined the radical Kharkov "People’s Will" group, and began
making explosives. A government agent infiltrated their circle and
Dudin was arrested in the summer of 1884. He was eventually transported
to a central prison in Moscow, and three years later, at the age of
24, he was exiled to Siberia. There, Dudin was assigned to care for
the Selenginsk meteorological station, and began collecting geological
and folkloric material. He met the famous Russian explorer G.M. Potanin,
who asked Dudin to make ethnographic sketches of Buriat life.
The authorities arbitrarily
determined places of exile, and Dudin was moved to Troitskosavsk,
where he found employment with the local photographer. In 1891, Dudin
met the great Russian scholar V.V. Radlov, leader of the Orkhon expedition,
who was so impressed with the young artist that he asked him to join
his archeological expedition as painter and photographer. When the
expedition ended, Radlov brought Dudin back to the capital, and with
Potanin’s help, successfully petitioned for his release from exile.
Dudin joined the St. Petersburg Academy of Art and was given a scholarship
to study in Vienna and Paris. When he returned to St. Petersburg,
he joined the ‘Wanderers’ or ‘Itinerants’, a group of Russian painters
associated with Ilya Repin’s social-realistic style. The ‘Wanderers’
believed in bringing art to the masses; they rejected many Academy
norms and exhibited their work in traveling shows all over Russia.
Dudin’s first expedition
to Central Asia was undertaken while still a student. In 1893, Radlov
announced to Dudin that he and another young scientist, V.V. Bartold,
were to set out to study the ancient monuments in the regions of the
rivers Chu and Ili. Dudin could not have had a better teacher as companion;
Bartold was to become the greatest scholar of medieval Central Asia
of the 19th and 20th centuries. The two traveled
by freighter, railroad, carriage and finally on horseback through
the steppe. Neither had been trained to undertake such an expedition.
Dudin was the better organized and more practical of the two, but
years later, Bartold used the word ‘irascible’ several times in his
eulogy for the artist. "I have not yet spoken about the steppe
wells with half-salt water or about those days when having reached
the end of his cigarettes, Samuel Martinovich arrived at the furthest
bounds of irritation - particularly at night time…in an overcrowded
third class wagon, and this state not only affected his fellow traveler
but also the surrounding public. Sometimes several days went past,
before he was himself again. It was understood by us that any trifling
irritability disappeared at once, if only he succeeded in producing
some kind of archeological find…"
In 1898 Dudin returned to
Central Asia to study the 14th and 15th century
monuments of Samarkand, which would be the subject of an early monograph.
He made over 200 large plate (24 x 30 cm) negatives of the tile-worked
buildings – which are still used today as a basis for restoration
Dudin’s most important contribution
to Central Asian studies came about as a result of a decision by the
Russian imperial family to expand the ethnographic department at the
Russian Museum. Dudin wrote in his report, "In the winter of 1900
Academician V.V. Radlov suggested that I prepare a short program for
a journey to Central Asia, aimed at compiling an ethnographic collection
on the Sarts of Russian Turkestan."
The 1900 expedition was
well organized and equipped, thanks to the support of Grand Duke Gregory
Mikhailovich. Dudin ordered the latest German cameras and lenses and
special crates were built for a portable photo laboratory, so he could
be sure that his photographs had been successful at each point on
his journeys. This expedition resulted in a collection of over 2000
glass negatives. These images have incalculable scientific value,
especially in the documentation of crafts processes and of textiles
and costumes of the period. But they are also the work of an artist.
The photographs are composed, but never contrived; they have a modern
energy and impact.
This was Dudin’s most fruitful
journey. In addition to making photographs, he collected several thousand
objects during three years of almost continuous travel, returning
to St. Petersburg for only brief periods each winter to catalog the
newly acquired materials. "Among the objects of the material culture
my interest was aimed mostly at rugs, embroidery and jewelry. Besides
the common and artistic interest that they demonstrate, they are the
only items through which you can study Turkoman art. Visiting yurts,
I aimed at another very important purpose: I wanted to know about
the characteristics and ornamentation of the rugs, to confirm all
of the terms which the merchants and local experts use."
In 1905 Dudin returned again
to Central Asia to carry out excavations at the Shah Zindeh mausoleum
complex in Samarkand. At the same time he assembled a large collection
of Central Asian ceramics for the Academy Museum and the Russian Museum.
Three years later he made another journey to Samarkand, where he made
remarkably detailed watercolor sketches and still more photographs
of its Islamic monuments. He was greatly distressed by the rapid deterioration
of their surface decoration, and at the heaps of broken tile work
littering the ground beneath their walls. Dudin argued for the collection
and removal to St. Petersburg of as much ancient material as possible,
but his proposal was never adopted.
to 1910, and again in 1914 and 1915, Dudin took part in expeditions
in eastern Turkestan and western China, photographing and making a
detailed scientific study of the early Buddhist wall-paintings and
sculpture in the ancient cave temples of Dunhuang and documenting
the oasis cultures of the Tarim Basin. The expeditions were headed
by S. F. Oldenburg, who wrote," Very often, the enormous significance
which the photographer had on the work of the expedition is not sufficiently
taken into account, nor is the enormous difficulty and the completely
special character which the expeditionary photographer must have.
S.M. always considered the chance that it would be impossible to repeat
exposures… where in the passage of time… valuable scientific objects
might disappear totally. S.M. might justly be called a photographer-scholar…it
is no exaggeration to state that in many areas involving the material
culture of Central Asia, it would be impossible to do decisive research
in our time without the materials of Samuel Martinovich"
Dudin worked at several
St. Petersburg museums during the war years. He continued to serve
in an astonishing number of official positions in the post-revolutionary
period, in most of them without pay. He was Secretary of both the
Turkestan Committee for the Academy of the History of Material Culture
and of the Radlov Circle at the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography,
and in 1920 became the director of the museum. In 1920-1921 the State
Expert Commission assigned him the task of stocktaking in the State
Treasuries: after that Vneshtorg (the international trade organization)
and Gostorg (organization for internal trade) asked him to select
and price of major lots of carpets for export. The State Hermitage,
the Russian Museum and other institutions employed Dudin as a consultant
on ceramics and applied art.
In the chaotic and insecure
years just after the revolution, Dudin seems to have found peace.
"In my personal opinion, in these years, when many were driven
to the breaking-point by hunger and other disasters, Samuel Martinovich
remained more composed than before. In spite of the disagreeable elements
of the duties of the Secretary, these responsibilities evidently drew
him into himself and filled him not only with an irreproachable conscientiousness,
but also with love," wrote Bartold in 1930. Dudin’s last post
was as an instructor in photography in the geographical section of
Leningrad State University at Sablin, where he died in the early hours
of July 9th, 1929.
It seems likely that Dudin
was fortunate even in death. Dudin’s youthful political activism had
given him a measure of security in the early years of the revolution,
but soon after his death, Stalin made aggressive moves against the
study of ethnography and other sciences dealing with the history and
culture of Russia’s colonized regions. Subsequent Soviet ethnographic
work was forced to adhere to the Marxist polemic of progressive development.
While much valuable work continued, it was always constrained by political
For the most part, Dudin’s
photographs are preserved in glass negatives (many of them signed
in the negative) in the archives of the Russian museums where he worked
for so many years. The 600 glass negatives utilized in the Russian
pavilions at the Paris Exhibition of 1900 were presented to Germany
at the exhibition’s close; only copies were returned to Russia. Glass
negatives continued in common use well into the 1970s in parts of
the Soviet Union, and negative copies, sometimes of the third and
fourth generation, also rest in Central Asian archives. A number of
Dudin’s original negatives were destroyed when the Museum of Ethnology
received a direct hit in aerial bombing during WWII. A limited number
of vintage prints are known outside of archives within the former
Soviet Union. Most of these are sepia-toned silver gelatin prints.
S. M. Dudin remains one
of the most extraordinary figures in the Russian colonial period.
His intensity and his passion for art astonished and sometimes bewildered
his academic colleagues. His versatility as artist and scholar, his
combined scientific focus and technical skills make him difficult
to categorize. His work as ethnographer and archeologist helped to
define Central Asia’s past; his photographs draw us in to that ancient
and unfamiliar world.
© Kate Fitz Gibbon