My analysis of this photo has lead me to discover many interesting things that have occurred during this period of time and in this region of empire. For starters, Georgia, at the time of this photo’s creation, had been a colony of the Russian Empire, a part of a greater Caucasus territory. There had been numerous attempts by the imperial government to Russianize those with the region , their culture, and institutions, without really giving much thought into what the people wanted. It was not until Tsar Nicholas I (1825-1855) assigned Count M.S. Vorontsov with the task of elevating tension between the native people and the imperial government, by appointing him as the Vicegerent of the Caucasian Territory, that they saw an improvement in their situation. Two important things occurred as a result of Vorontsov’s appointment was that he divided the Caucasus Territory into provinces based on local, social, and political structures (including the creation of Georgia), and removed Russian nobles from government positions in the region, and appointed native people from their designated province to replace them. He gave the native people, in their designated region, a seat at the table and was generally interested to hear what they had to say. So it is fair to assume that those women in the photo, while it is possible they are Russian noblewomen on vacation in Georgia, as Georgia was a popular tourist destination for Russian nobles during this time, could also be the wives of Georgian noblemen or bureaucrats hired by Vorontsov.
But, what about the imperial officer accompanying the women? Why is he there? To be honest, I at first thought he might have been a relative of theirs, maybe a husband of sorts, but after reading through the textbook I found that by the end of the 19th century, as a result of the Great Reforms and the Emancipation, nobles enlisted in military schools dropped from 81%, in 1860, to 12%, the rest of which were filled by officers of non-noble heritage (Freeze, Russia: a History, pg 218). So it’s unlikely that that officer is a nobleman or related to the women in any way. So why is he there? Well, my guess is that since this photo was taken in 1905 and by the foliage in the background seems to be either spring or summer, that this photo was taken after the events of Bloody Sunday, which resulted in the death of hundreds of protesters at the hands of imperial officers. And that the officer in the photo is there to ensure that these women do not interact with the common people or anyone who might rile up trouble. This being the case as Tsar Nicohlas II and his regime, even before Bloody Sunday, were very weary of any elites interacting with the common people in social settings, especially without government supervision (Freeze, Russia: a History, pg. 235), believing that such an interaction may lead to revolutionary or anarchist behavior or a possible revolt or revolution against the government. Such a tragic event would, in theory, amp up the government’s need to maintain control over the general population and elite to ensure that it remains in power.
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History Third Edition . Oxford University Press, 2009.