This photo depicts three generations of a Russian family and the beginning of the twentieth century. This family lived in a town know as Zlatoust in the Ural Mountains. The town had become a hub for transportation and arms production at the turn of the century. The son (middle) and granddaughter (right) worked in the arms factory in the town, which had helped provide arms to the Russian military since the beginning of the nineteenth century. In particular, the factory specialized in the production of sabers and swords for the Russian military. Although the use of arms in warfare had increased, the necessity for handheld weapons still persisted and the factory had thrived for many years.
Out of everything in the photo, the family’s attire can reveal insight on the global cultural exchange occurring during the early 1900s. The father (left) is dressed in traditional Russian clothes that were popular through imperial Russia during the 19th century. The son and the granddaughter, however, are wearing clothes of a more western style. This subtle difference may be overlooked by many but it can tell a story of its own. The differences in clothing shows how Western style and culture was seeping into the East even at the beginning of the 1900s. The generational gap is present in mostly every culture and the same can be seen in this photograph. The father, who had worked in the factory for more than 50 years, is likely to have deep ties to the traditions of the past, thus explaining his attire’s Russian characteristics. However, the same cannot be said for the son and the granddaughter. It is clear to see that between the father’s generation and the son’s, there was likely a Western influence in clothing style. This influence continued even into the granddaughter’s generation. Only when all three are present side-by-side in the photograph can the differences be discerned clearly.
The introduction of Western style clothing seen on this photograph shows how much Russians were attracted to Western ideas and innovations even at the turn of the century. Some may find this interesting and somewhat surprising when considering the distinct differences associated with the Soviet Union and the West throughout much of the twentieth century. As one can see, Western influence had already been trickling into Russia for generations in 1909 when this photograph was taken. It seems that people in the East possessed many curiosities about the West and welcomed parts of its culture. Although we know this was frowned upon by many of the Soviet leaders such as Stalin, Western culture still seeped into the East Bloc during the Cold War, reaching all the way to the Soviet Union itself. It was this spread of Western culture that helped lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union. As one can now see, the Western culture that helped collapse the Soviet Union in 1991 was not much different than the spreading of Western culture in Russia in 1909 as depicted in this photograph. Overall, it seems that Western culture was spreading to the East throughout the entire 20th Century and was impossible to stop, despite the wishes of the Soviet leaders.
This photograph shows the fluidity of culture and how quickly it can spread across the globe. In as short a time as a generation, aspects of a culture can change greatly, as one can see when examining this photograph. Whether this cultural change was restricted to clothing styles, the photograph cannot say. However, I find this to be very unlikely. Ideas and beliefs can spread faster than material objects and for that reason I belief that the culture surrounding Zlatoust likely experienced many ideological changes from the father’s generation to the granddaughter’s. I can only speculate on what these changes could have been but the shift from traditional values of imperial Russia seems to be present from the photograph. Nonetheless, the cultural change is clear and cannot be denied. The Western style clothing in the images is evidence as to how quickly, easily, and sometimes subtly a culture in an area can change as well as the acceptance of Western culture throughout Russia.
Photograph URL: https://www.wdl.org/en/item/5293/view/1/1/
Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, “Library of Congress Exhibitions – The Prokudin-Gorskii Photographic Record Recreated: The Empire That Was Russia,” Library on Congress, accessed January 18, 2018, http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/empire/work.html.
Gregory L. Freeze, Russia. A History, 3rd Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).