The images contained in these two collections provide rare photographic portraits of life in Central Asia in the latter half of the 19th century. The introduction to each states that most of the photos had not been published prior to the release of these books by Garnet Publishing (UK) in 1993.Vitaly Naumkin is identified as the series editor and Andrei G. Nedvetsky as co-compiler and archive researcher.
Most of the photos in this volume were taken in the 1880s and ’90s, a few in 1878. The introduction describes the detective work required to identify both the photographers and the subjects. Much of the research was conducted in the State Archives of Uzbekistan and gleaned from official reports and documents; some was sourced from 19th-century newspapers and the private writings of travelers, explorers, and military personnel (pp. 8-9).
I was tempted to pass over some photos (yet another array of officials decked out in their regalia) with a perfunctory glance. However, closer attention to the text often yielded interesting tidbits, such as that about the Persian slave, Mulla Mohammadi-bey, who eventually rose to prime minister. He retained this position until his death at the impressive age of 88 (or 86–the precise date of his birth appears to be uncertain) (p. 42). Or there is the claim that the Kush Beg-i, the vizier who held supreme administrative and executive power, was not allowed to leave the fortress while the emir was absent and thus might become “a prisoner of duty” for months or even years together. We are told that he collected the keys to all eleven city gates every night and slept with them under his pillow (p. 17). He likely passed many an uneasy night.
Other interesting accounts include a description of gold panning from an early twentieth-century visitor to Bukhara (p. 103, photo p. 104)); descriptions of dancing boys and the antics of the emir’s court clowns in the bazaar (p. 106, photos pp. 107-109); and grim descriptions of prisons and executions (p. 110, photos pp. 112-113, 124).
Additional photographs of particular interest:
- A variety of photos of Bukharan Jews, including “a Jewish feast” under a tall wooden shelter topped with branches (Sukkot, perhaps?) (p. 78), a Jewish school with about forty children (boys and girls) (p. 76), and about twenty-five worshipers in an impressively ornate synagogue (p. 82).
- Eight Indian men in a “smoking room” equipped with hookahs (p. 60), three Indian musicians with their instruments (p. 83), and about fifteen men gathered around a pyre at an “Indian burial ceremony” (p. 64).
- The “bullock cart of the Bukhara emir,” decorated with iron scrollwork on the top and equipped with cushions and other comforts inside. Open to the air, despite all this elegance, and likely to be a hot–or cold–and dusty ride (p. 102).
- The massive Bukhara fortress, or Arq (pp. 115-116), built on the spot where various residences of the region’s governors have stood for around 1500 years.
- Numbers of photos of bazaar scenes and extensive caravanserais, or inns for travelers.
- The interior of a room in the house of a rich Bukharan merchant, adorned with multiple wall niches side by side and intricate decorative designs (p. 129).
- Interior and exterior photos of the ornate country palaces (one “old,” one “new”) of two emirs in Shirbudun, outside Bukhara. They have since been destroyed (pp. 135-141). The editor reports that “many contemporary residents of Bukhara have never even heard of their existence (p. 134).
The book concludes with assorted photos of other locales scattered throughout southern Central Asia.
Researchers seeking a feel for Bukhara in the late 19th/early 20th century will want to consult this album. The next post will provide more details on the “Caught in Time” volume on Khiva. Both are, unfortunately, difficult to access, with online prices of $75 and up, but university libraries should hold or be able to access them.