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Destination: Uzbekistan
Last updated: 21 Dec 2022

Uzbek Photography, 125 anniversary

Anthology 125 years of Uzbek photography has been published on the initiative of Tashkent House of Photography, established in 2002 to consolidate the leading Uzbekistan photographers. The turn to history of national photo became the logic development of many-sided activity of Tashkent House of Photography, which has hold several of thematic and personal exhibitions in Uzbekistan and abroad as well as the number of international contests. The Tashkent House of Photography represents Uzbekistan in FIAP, the biggest international organization, which unites professional photographers of the world. The artistic level of photos, which synthesizes virtuosity of the photo artist and unique image of the epoch, became the major criterion in the selection of photos for this anthology. Volume I represents the period from the birth and first steps of Uzbek photo at the late 19th century up to the works of masters coming in the first half of the 20th century. Volume II covers the period of Tashkent photo school becoming in the second half of the 20th century and represents the works of its best representatives. Volume III is devoted to contemporary Uzbekistan photographers, reflecting the period of independent development of this largest Central Asian country.

Hudaibergen Devonov
Hudaibergen Devonov

Art Linking the Past, Present and Future

Photo laboratory of H. Divanov. Fragment.
Photo laboratory of H. Divanov. Fragment.

The album represents the first systematic survey of the wide-ranging topic - "Uzbek photography". This phenomenon is unique within the historical context - just coming into being; the photo penetrated into far Central Asia and left behind not only invaluable documents about the life more than century ago, but also gave the true artistic masterpieces. Today, few of the people remember that the aim to expedite the work of artists became the decisive impulse to the invention of photo. The photo was immediately recognized as the innovative step in the development of art. Central Asia and, in particular, Turkistan had perfect conditions for the quick progress of photo art. The unique nature and picturesque images of its people - all that seemed exotic to the Europeans, which tried to fix everything on photographic plates. The photographers agreed to carry the bulky photographic facilities and fragile glass plates from afar to satisfy their great interest to this region and to fix it for history. The unhurried life in the East resonated with tardiness and, may be, forced particularity of photo taking in that period. The stopped moments and frozen frames waited far ahead and actually were not so important. In fact, the first photos, taken 125 years ago, are valuable as they give us a lucky chance to see the depth of the life instead of to fix its worldliness. These pictures bring the past closer to us and expose the details, which could not be preserved in any other way. It was happy time for the photo. Its creative component wonderfully combined with the mass character. It could not grade up to the present, but anyhow was enough to reach our days through the stormy 20th century, considering the fact that only 10-20 percent of human products can avoid the decay and destruction. The photo, like the other achievements of the growing industrial epoch, not only fixed the reality. It actively participated in the life. The photo became more accessible for the people than painting and graphic portraits.

Camera of H. Devronov.
Camera of H. Devronov.

The opportunities of photo portraits were unprecedented in the East, where existed own traditions and approaches to the human image. Invaluable samples of the old photo portraits, created more than a century ago, are before us. The photo made the person to see himself and his life more significant. Look, how great is dignity on the first photo portraits. The first photographers in Uzbekistan were the Europeans, which brought West-European cameras. The local people were gradually captured by the growing interest to the technical innovation. Some of them overcame dissidence and became photographers and owners of the first photo studios. The first photos made on the territory of today's Uzbekistan date to the end of the 1870s. The date of Hudaibergen Divanov's birth - 1879 symbolically coincides with the birth of the Uzbek photo. The name of this remarkable person, the first domestic photographer and cameraman entered the history of the Uzbek photo.

Exhibition of Devronov.
Exhibition of Devronov.

Much in the life of Hudaibergen Divanov reminds the legend. It forms the chain of surprising events full of the deep meaning.

Name card of H. Divanov
Name card of H. Divanov

The short introduction cannot cover all aspects of this subject but the question how the relations between the outstanding invention of the 19th century and Hudaibergen occurred and developed is worthy to be widely known. Everything was predetermined. About two hundred Germans were moved from the Russian Volga region to Khorezm, kishlak of Ok Maschit (White mosque). Among them was the inquisitive craftsman, Penner. The local people revised his name into Panorbuva - grandfather-lantern, probably because he brought a very strange subject reminding a lantern - it was the camera "Zot". It chanced that Hudaibergen, the clever son of Nurmuhammad, who was the office secretary at Khiva khan Muhammad Rakhim II, saw the camera. Soon the boy became the friend of Panorbuva and showed the great interest in photo taking. The old German gave him both the camera and all required accessories. From 1903, Hudaibergen started to take photos of Khiva minarets piercing the blue cloudless sky, his friends and relatives. However, the growing fame brought the problems to the first Khorezm photographer - the adherents of religious canons and their leader, Judge Salim Akhun complained to khan that his subject occupies at business, not approved by the God. The father of Hudaibergen was reminded that to draw and furthermore to take human photos was a sin as the angel did not fly in the room where were photos with human portraits. Nurmuhammad-aka, who was ready to spend all his salary to educate his only son, answered that if the angel really would refuse to visit the room where his son had photos, the other nine rooms of his house would be for his free range. The khan, being a poet and educated person, asked Hudaibergen to photograph him. The governor liked the photo and estimated creative and technical skills of the young artist. He not only protected him from the clergy, but invited to work at the mint. In 1907 the delegation of Khiva khan led by Right Vizier Islam Khodja went to Petersburg. Hudaibergen, already titled as Divanov, was taken to memorize this event. He was permitted to stay in the Russian capital for two months in order to study the photo art.

Madrasah of Muhammad Aminkhan and Kuk-minor Minaret, H. Divanov
Madrasah of Muhammad Aminkhan and Kuk-minor Minaret, H. Divanov

Hudaibergen brought the cinematograph "Pate", gramophone, and, certainly, new cameras from Petersburg.

Looking at H. Divanov's photos, we amaze to historicism of his art minding. He quickly realized his high mission as the representative of his people and his epoch, responsible before the future generations. Choosing the subjects, he directed the camera to the subjects, obviously bearing the features of the eternal values - minarets, mosques and historical places. Photographing the people, he aspired to combine the ethnographic approach and aesthetic - each character, representing this or that type, self-expressed as the unique individual. Providence lowered the other human joys and even deprives him of the most important - his son and daughter died when children were. He had only wife, his faithful companion and … passion to photo and cinema. His life story included a high post of the Minister of Finance of the Khorezm Republic and the director of the photo club in Pedagogical Technical College, the honored work as the first Uzbek cameraman at the first Uzbek film studio. When H. Divanov was young, he was a member of the Mladokhivians' party, what finally cost him his life: being a retiree, H. Divanov was repressed by the Soviet authorities as a satellite of Akmal Ikramov and Faizulla Khodjaev. In 1940, he was executed. In 1958 H. Divanov was rehabilitated.

Information on the majority of Uzbekistan photographers of the late 19th - first third of the 20th centuries is very poor or absent at all. This is quite typical of the situations when the photo was recognized exclusively as a documentary source. Paradoxically, this relative anonymity promoted some freedom in the field of photo art. In the Soviet period, many Uzbekistan photographers took the socially ordered plots and showed themselves as original photo artists, choosing expressive camera angles and giving such expressive play of light and shadow, that even prosy objects (bridges, factories, buildings, etc.) obtained self-sufficiency of the artistic images. Among photographers of that period was Samarkand photographer P. Kildyushev, Tashkent press photographer M. Penson, Fedorov, who created photo-annals of Chirchikstroy and some others. The P. Kildyushev's works demonstrated influence of the classic West-European and Russian fine arts - carefully verified composition, central linear and light-and-shadow perspective, which softly draw our attention to psychological features of the photo portraits. On the contrary, the decorative effect and modernistic expression prevail in the works of Fedorov and some other photographers of the 1930s-40s. The unexpected foreshortenings put forward the details of machines and industrial structures, and the light and shadow express the extreme tension of the changes running in the life.

M. Penson's photos were probably the most accordant with that epoch and synthetic. The social and reportage features were accented, and were partly balanced by some universal aesthetics - the classic composition quite often combined with informative aggressiveness of the social order and laconic figurativeness of details. Sometimes all that turned into aesthetics of placards and slogans.

The relatively weakened canons of perception and their east-western mixture caused the high tolerance of art styles and directions. That much promoted blossoming of the photo art in Uzbekistan. Some photographers continued and developed the realistic traditions, describing the exotic reality. Some of them focused on form-making and were surprised, finding out that the decorative effects could suddenly remind the masterpieces of local carpet weaving and the other applied arts and crafts, for centuries selecting the elements and compositions, which have recently been discovered by European avant-garde. Some of them synthesized all that, mixing genres and styles, hurrying after the time, unexpectedly fast in this eternal and slow land, and not thinking that brought their own contribution into creation of new human-made eternity.

The full survey of photo art of Uzbekistan, developing during three centuries, waits ahead and still hides many discoveries, both informative and aesthetic. The photos from the private collections, mass photos from numerous cards and many others remained beyond this album, because of different reasons. The first approach naturally is wide and represents the attempt to cover the phenomenon in general, drawing the public and scientific interest. The original photo art of Uzbekistan is worthy to be carefully studied.

Related pages

Maglan. "Cheshme bashli" mahalla. Syrdarya region.
Qarabulak kishlak. Donne-tepa.Late 1870s. Syrdarya region.
Field work. H. Divanov.
Young photographer. H. Divanov.
Mystery of photography. H. Divanov.
Caravan on the way in the desert of Qarakum
Islam Hodja
Bibi-Hanum. 1893. Samarkand. L. Borshevsky
Bukhara. Poyi-Kalyan. Kalyan Mosque.
Bazaar. 1930. Kokand. P. Kildyushev
Shakhi-Zinda. 1893. Samarkand. L. Borshevskiy.
Chig'ir - water "elevator"
A ferryboat on the Zerafshan River. 1927. Hazara.
Travellers. 1934. Andijan. M. Penson.
In the village of Zanghi-ata. 1938. Tashkent region. M. Penson