The History of Russia in 70,000 Photos: New Photo Archive Presents Russian History from 1860 to 1999

1860 Rider

Back in col­lege, I took a sur­vey class on Russ­ian his­to­ry, taught by one of these peo­ple who take up the pro­fes­sion in their active retire­ment after a career spent work­ing in the field. This par­tic­u­lar pro­fes­sor had gone to work for the State Depart­ment after grad­u­ate school and served in var­i­ous posts in Sovi­et Rus­sia for sev­er­al decades. The for­mat of his class seemed unre­mark­able on paper. One stan­dard syl­labus, one bulky, expen­sive text­book. But the class­es them­selves con­sist­ed of long, fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ries about per­son­al encoun­ters with Brezh­nev and Gor­bachev, or jour­neys into ancient Kiev, or to the out­er reach­es of the Steppes.

1920 Red Square

All that was miss­ing from those vivid rec­ol­lec­tions was a com­pa­ra­ble pho­to essay to tell the sto­ry visu­al­ly. This has been reme­died and then some by the “The His­to­ry of Rus­sia,” an enor­mous joint archive project from Moscow’s Mul­ti­me­dia Art Muse­um and Yan­dex, Russia’s largest search engine. The archive con­tains over 70,000 pho­tos, gath­ered from “more than 40 insti­tu­tions and col­lec­tions,” writes Hyper­al­ler­gic, and rep­re­sent­ing “over 150 years of pho­tographs cap­tur­ing all sorts of scenes of Russ­ian life.”

August Putsch

Non-Russ­ian speak­ers can load the site in Google Chrome and have it trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish. Addi­tion­al­ly, “a time­line allows you to browse by date, a map enables loca­tion-based search­es, and pre­set cat­e­gories fil­ter the images by theme.” Russ­ian speak­ers can enter spe­cif­ic key­words into the site’s search engine. Cur­rent­ly, the archive fea­tures an exhi­bi­tion on the August Putsch, the 1991 coup attempt on the pres­i­den­cy of Mikhail Gor­bachev, staged by hard-line Com­mu­nist Par­ty Mem­bers opposed to reform. See one icon­ic pho­to of that his­tor­i­cal event above, and many more at the vir­tu­al exhi­bi­tion.

Christmas Tree in Luzhniki Stadium

The late 1980s and 90s may be a peri­od of par­tic­u­lar inter­est for stu­dents and writ­ers of Russ­ian his­to­ry, like David Rem­nick, and for good rea­son. But every decade in the archive holds its own fas­ci­na­tion. State­ly por­traits from the 1860s, like that at the top of the post, show us the soci­ety of Tol­stoy in the decade he seri­al­ized War and Peace. Pho­tos from the 20s, like the satir­i­cal dis­play in Red Square, fur­ther down, show us the days of Lenin’s rule and the ear­ly years of the Sovi­et Union. Images from the 50s give us unique insid­er views—often impos­si­ble at the time—of ordi­nary Sovi­et life at the height of the Cold War, such as the Christ­mas tree in the Luzh­ni­ki Sta­di­um, above, or the man lead­ing an ele­phant from the Red Army The­ater, below.

Elephant Red Army Theater

The 60s in par­tic­u­lar look like a Life mag­a­zine spread, with dra­mat­ic pho­tos of Olympic ath­letes in train­ing, states­men posed with wives and chil­dren, and hun­dreds of arrest­ing pic­tures from every­day life, like that of two boys box­ing below. The huge gal­leries can be a lit­tle cum­ber­some to nav­i­gate and require some patience on the part of the non-Russ­ian-speak­ing user. But that patience is rich­ly reward­ed with pho­to­graph after pho­to­graph of a coun­try we rarely hear spo­ken of in less than inflam­ma­to­ry terms. We encounter, of course, the odd por­trait of Stal­in and oth­er well-worn pro­pa­gan­da images, but for the most part, the pho­tos look and feel can­did, and for good rea­son.

1962 Boys Boxing

“Accord­ing to a release,” Hyper­al­ler­gic writes, “many of the pho­tographs are pub­lished here for the first time, part­ly because the por­tal invites users to upload, describe, and tag images from per­son­al archives. It has the feel of a muse­um collection”—and also of a fam­i­ly pho­to album stretch­ing back gen­er­a­tions. “The His­to­ry of Rus­sia” archive offers occa­sion­al con­text in addi­tion to the dates, names, and loca­tions of sub­jects. But infor­ma­tive text appears rarely, and in near­ly unread­able trans­la­tions for us non-speak­ers. Nonethe­less, a few hours lost in these gal­leries feel like a near total immer­sion in Russ­ian his­to­ry. You can enter the archive here.

Group Portrait 1900

via Hyper­al­ler­gic

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The First Col­or Por­trait of Leo Tol­stoy, and Oth­er Amaz­ing Col­or Pho­tos of Czarist Rus­sia (1908)

Beau­ti­ful, Col­or Pho­tographs of Paris Tak­en 100 Years Ago—at the Begin­ning of World War I & the End of La Belle Époque

Down­load 650 Sovi­et Book Cov­ers, Many Sport­ing Won­der­ful Avant-Garde Designs (1917–1942)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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