30 August, 2013
From a collection, of photographs taken by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii in the early 20th century, I chose to examine View of the Solovetskii Monastery. The fortifications established around the monastery caught my immediate attention because defensive measures are not often associated with religious institutions.
The monastery was founded in the 15th century, built with fortifications to prevent attack from hostile neighbors. The monastery became “the economic, religious, military and cultural centre of the whole region” (UNESCO). But the history of the Solovetskii Monastery is not one of community growth and progress, but rather a history littered with dark remnants of the past, specifically during the 20th century.
In the 1920s, under Lenin, the Solovki prison camp was established within the Solovetskii Monastery; a camp that would become a model for concentration camps across the state. A majority of the prisoners were considered “enemies” of the state. The camp ran from 1921 to 1939, but the number of prisoners who came to the island are not specifically known. A reflection of this history, the Solovki Camp established at the monastery has been said to be “the mother of the GULAG.”
In 1939, the islands were used by the Russian Navy and in 1967 the Museum Preserve was established; however, the true nature of the monastery was not reestablished until 1990 (UNESCO).
The labor camps established at the monastery closely tie into the contemporary view most Americans have toward Russia; however, the reversal of the monastery back to its original form arguably is not a means to forget the past, but to reconnect to a history often overshadowed by controversy.
Image created by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, 1910, photographer
Permanent Record: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/empire/architecture.html