As a photography student myself, there is nothing I love more than photographs of people. These images present much more than a face– they illustrate a sense of time, culture and place. The collection of Prokudin-Gorskii images vary from objects to landscapes and of course people; the photograph “Jewish Children with their Teacher”, details a meeting between traditionally-dressed jewish youth and a master in the city of Samarkand, and it evoked a desire to discover more about the setting.
Samarkand, now the third largest city in Uzbekistan, was once a major post on the Silk Road and later a part of Russian Turkestan. Because of this, the city has a vast array of influences, religions and cultures. In particular, the architecture of the city can be used to portray the various spheres of influence that Samarkand endured over the last few hundred years.
Dating back to around 1500 BCE, Samarkand has a rich history. The city saw its peak in the 14th and 15th centuries, with much of its influences coming from Islam. Architecturally, Samarkand saw a rise in mosques and mausoleums in this era, the two most famous being the Bibi Khanum and the Gur-I Amir (pictured below).
Until the 18th and 19th centuries, the city fell into a period of turmoil. In 1888, however, Samarkand became home to the Trans-Caspian railway and was under Russian control. The architecture from this period lacked the grandiose of the earlier structures. In classic Soviet style, these buildings are more about function than form.
The initial photo by Prokudin-Gorskii emphasizes the ethnic diversity of Russia at the turn of the century. Cities like Samarkand, with a cultural richness, mimic this diversity and provided Russia with important ties to other global powers.