Shota Rustaveli Avenu. Photo by M. Penson. 1938

The 19th century was the epoch when the art of photography was born. Photography was regarded as a next step in the development of fine arts. It was no accident that the first photographers were called light-painters. Photo-images often grew beyond the framework of a mere document, and everything recorded on a photographic plate acquired the value of living artistic evidence created by a contemporary.

Central Asia was a kind of a testing field for the development of photography. Wonderful nature, abundance of world-famous architectural and historical monuments, the peculiar lifestyle of its indigenous people — all that predetermined the eagerness of the masters of new art to communicate to the viewer their own vision of this wholesome, exotic and harmonious world. This was also facilitated by the increasing interest of the global community towards history and culture of Central Asia.

The first photographic shots of Tashkent were published in «Turkestan Album» compiled in 1871-1872 by orientalist and ethnographer Alexander Kun and published in seven copies following personal instructions of the Governor-General of Turkestan K. P. Kaufman for the Polytechnic exhibition. Tashkent shots for the album were performed by N. Nekhoroshev (1, pp. 107-225). N. Nekhoroshev, K. Stsiborovskiy, D. Nazarov and S. Nikolai became professional photographers and founders of a photo-shop in the capital city of the Turkestan Region.

Mat of professional photo-shops in Tashkent (1870s-1890s)

By 1910 twenty professional photo-shops operated in Tashkent; their total annual revenue reached almost 80 thousand roubles — a huge amount for that time. The masters glued photographs they made onto special branded mats, on the reverse side of which they printed characteristic symbolic and advertising images and texts.

The teacher of drawing at the Tashkent grammar school Dmitriy Nazarov earned a good reputation as photographer; he ran a photo-shop located in his private house at the corner of Moskovskaya and Khivinskaya streets. Nazarov graduated from the famous Stroganov vocational school and from his student years became enthusiastic about photography. Photos he created are the proof of the author’s high professionalism and his unquestionable individual signature hand in this art. In 1908 fourteen (14) shots of this Tashkent master were presented at the World photo exhibition in Marseilles (France) and awarded the Grand Prix.

However, for the oriental mentality that maintained a special tradition of portraying animated objects, making photographic portraits originally appeared to be an unheard-of and taboo thing.

The row of tea-houses in Urda. Postcard of E. Khlubna print shop, 1913

In 1889 a well-known Uzbek poet Furkat, who during his sojourn in Tashkent took interest in different European innovations which were at that time making their way into daily life of Turkestan, visited Nazarov. In his photo-shop the poet was introduced to the design of the camera, the process of making a photograph and the work of the master to produce visit-portraits. Furkat described all this in detail and published in Uzbek language in Turkeston Viloyat Gazetasi (Turkestan Region Newspaper). The publication immediately drew attention of local population to photography. The orthodox became convinced that photography certainly did not fall under the shariah ban on portraying living beings, and this opened way for the development of national professional photography (2, pp. 259-260).

The National Archive of the Republic of Uzbekistan preserved an official petition to Syrdarya provincial administration of the Turkestan Region from the resident of Tashkent (Sheikhantaur makhalla «Khauzbag») Ilkhomjan Inogamjan Khojiev of the following content: «Having in my possession a photographic camera and practicing the shooting of scenes and different individuals, I excited so much interest among the residents of the old part of Tashkent that some of the Uzbeks started coming to me with orders; but as I do not have a permission for that and having no wish to inflict reprimands from authorities upon myself, I am compelled to decline these requests to my detriment. Now, having learned from Russian photographers that to engage in this business one requires permission from authorities, I dare submit my humble petition to issue me some kind of certificate for the engagement in the aforementioned trade» (3).

The permission was promptly issued (photographer’s certificate No. 739/6249 dated April 24, 1902). This is how it was born — the first «National Photograph of Ilkhomjan» in the old city, which was very popular in pre-revolutionary times. Ilkhomjan’s negatives had a through numbering, and the greatest photograph number known to the author of this article is 2454.

Material about the exhibition in Tashkent published by the Amateur Photographer newspaper (the media outlet  of SoyuzPhoto) in January 1937

Towards the end of the 19th century Tashkent saw the appearance of the Turkestan Society of Amateurs of Photography and Fine Arts. It was officially registered immediately after the first Turkestan photographic exhibition held in Tashkent from the 19th till the 26th of September 1899.

Even by contemporary standards, the exhibition was very big. The exhibition commission led by K. Timaev presented for the audience to judge more than two thousand five hundred art photographs in twelve different sections. The exposition displayed the works of all well-known Turkestan masters, including those from Tashkent: V. Kozlovskiy, E. Korkin, Sh. Nemtsevich, M. Smolenskiy; and amateurs I. Geyer, P. Grigoryev, S. Yudin, and G. Svarichevskiy. The whole collections of photographs gathered by A. Polovtsev, N. Pantusov, B. Kastalskiy, the Great Duke Nikolai Konstantinovich and other students of local lore were demonstrated, and a special catalogue was published (4, pp. 126-128).

The first Turkestan photographic exhibition coincided in time with the beginning of the so-called «postcard golden age» when they started printing the photos of Tashkent on the postcards. Today more than a thousand postcards showing views of the Turkestan Region capital published in 1898-1918 are known. Three postcard print-shops successfully operated in Tashkent. The owner of one of them, E. Khlubna, originally from the Dual (Austrian-Hungarian) Monarchy, was a gifted photographer and made the original shots to be shown on his postcards himself. More than a hundred views of Tashkent dating 1909-1914 printed using half-tone method by E. Khlubna’s print-shop (Tashkent, 39 Moskovskaya Str.) became part of the most valuable assets in the history of the Tashkent photography.

Chorsu canal near Kukeldash Madrassah. Photo by I. Panov, 1929

After the revolutionary turmoil of 1917-1920 the art of photography began to undergo substantial transformation. The «mystery of light-painting» characteristic of the initial period in the development of photography was sinking into the past.

From 1920s, Uzbekistan and primarily Tashkent was turning into a kind of Mecca for photographers. Many prominent masters came here regularly to produce their picture stories. For instance, the world-famous collage artist Alexander Rodchenko (1891-1956) was the main creator of the government-sponsored anniversary gift-edition photo album «10 Years of Uzbekistan» that entered the history of avant-garde book publishing and photographic art. Rodchenko’s students — B. Kudoyarov (1898-1974) and G. Zelma (1906-1984), both from Tashkent, were considered to be among the best photo-journalists in the country. Their works created in Tashkent became part of the «golden fund» of the city’s photographic history (5, pp. 47, 113, 169).

Of the Tashkent photographers of that period the most well-known was press photographer of Pravda Vostoka newspaper Max Penson (1893-1959) who, according to S. Eisenstein, «walked with his camera through all of Uzbekistan — the country the glorious history of which can be recreated, page by page, on the basis of his immense archive collected over many, many years» (6).

Conctruction of Komsomolskoye Lake. Photo by V. Sirotkin, 1939

The combination of documentary quality and pictorial features borrowed from painting is a characteristic feature of Penson’s works. That is exactly the quality of his famous photo-study «Uzbek Madonna» awarded the Grand Prix at the 1938 World’s Fair in Paris. Penson’s particular strength was in creating psychological photographs in industrial environment. Following the call of mass media of that time, photographers focused their lenses on the construction of the country’s new industrial base, which was at the centre of public attention during those years. In the first half of the 20th century constructivism was perceived as advanced style in art. In mid 1920s the artistic «relay-race baton» in photographic art was passed on from professional photo-shop masters to press photographers. At that time, along with M. Penson, Tashkent press used the services of I. Zbarskiy, N. Ryadov, K. Razykov, B. Yusupov…

Practically all stages in the development of Tashkent in the first half of the 20th century were reflected in the works of press photographers. Constructivist and psychological shots appeared not only on the pages of newspapers and magazines, but also in numerous photo-exhibitions. The construction of industrial giants such as Tashkent factory of agricultural machinery and a textile mill, the creation of large park areas in old and new parts of town, and memorable structures with multi-figure sculptural compositions — all this was reflected in detail by photo-artists in the pre-war Tashkent.

During the years of the Second World War, Tashkent photographers took pictures at the front lines and in the home front. Orientation toward the ideal inevitably generated a poster-style and explicit tendentiousness. Those were the requirements of time.

A substantial role in the evolution of photographic art in post-war Tashkent was played by Yezhenedelnaya fotogazeta (Weekly Photo-newspaper). It promptly responded to all events in social and cultural life, and its pages frequently featured the works of G. Permenyov, V. Kosovskiy, R. Shamsutdinov…

From 1950s a photo-section of the Journalists Union, photo-clubs and photo-groups began to work intensively. The theme of labour and portrait photographs occupied a central place in all exhibitions and a substantial part of press publications. Gradually, photographers began to move away from poster style and «staged» compositions.

Molodaya Gvardiya cinema hall destroyed by the earthquake. Photo by V. Sirotkin, 1966

Starting from 1958, Tashkent regularly hosted representative national-level exhibitions of works created by Uzbekistan photographers, many of who earned international fame.

Towards the end of the 20th century, pictures created by Tashkent photographers reflected basically all tendencies and currents that existed in the global art of photography. Dramatic events of the 1966 Tashkent earthquake and the subsequent grand-scale construction to overcome its consequences caused an apparent rise of documentary art (7).

The appearance of colour has divided photographs into documentary and pictorial ones (studies), and the best masters combine both approaches in their art.

After the country has attained independence, Tashkent photographers engaged in active creative work. Strong group of photographic artists under the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan, the Tashkent House of Photography, and regular representative photo-exhibitions held both in the country and abroad demonstrate achievements and capabilities of our artists. Masters of Uzbek photography such as R. Shagaev, Tursun Ali, R. Sharipov, F. Kurbanbaev and others have earned a well-deserved recognition in the society. Nowadays, photography in our country is one of the most dynamically developing domain of art.

1. Прищепова В. А. Иллюстративные коллекции по народам Центральной Азии конца XIX — начала XX века (из собраний МАЭ РАН). Культурное наследие народов Центральной Азии, Казахстана и Кавказа. Т. LII. СПб, 2005.
2. Остроумов Н. П. Сарты. Этнографические материалы. Ташкент, 1896.
3. Национальный государственный архив Республики Узбекистан. Ф. 17, оп. 1, д. 22093, л. 46.
4. Чабров Г. Н. Выставочная работа в Туркестанском крае. Труды музея истории УзССР. Вып. III. Ташкент, 1956.
5. Антология советской фотографии. Т. I. М., 1986.
6. Ходжаев Ф. Макс Пенсон. М., 1973.
7. O`zbek fotografiyasi 125 yil, I — III. Toshkent, 2005 — 2007.

Boris Golender