Photographer, collector and entrepeneur
From 14 June to 31 August 2014, the Nederlands Fotomuseum will present more than a hundred vintage prints from the archives of the photographer, collector and entrepreneur Dimitri Ermakov (Georgia, 1846-1916). This substantial collection consists of pictures that Ermakov made himself, supplemented by photos made by contemporaries from the Caucasus.
The pictures give a unique depiction of the Caucasus – which is still relatively unknown to many people in the Western Europe – at the end of the 19th century. Everyday life, the population and the landscapes, as well as the early modernization of the region, have been captured conscientiously and in great detail. Ermakov later opened a photostudio in Tbilisi (capital of Georgia) where he, as a modern entrepreneur, sold photos from his collection. Ermakov’s archives belong to the few reasonably complete photo archives to have survived from this period, and are therefore of great historical significance. The archives are kept in the National Museum of Georgia and have been restored and preserved by the restoration department of the National Museum of Georgia and the Nederlands Fotomuseum over the past ten years. Stichting Horizon has been closely involved in the restoration.
Ermakov as a traveller
Ermakov began his career as a travelling photographer in around 1860. One of his first trips took him to Constantinople (now Istanbul), where he focused his lens on architecture and everyday urban life. In subsequent years, he travelled further through the Caucasus and surrounding regions, visiting Armenia, Azerbaijan and Persia (Iran), among other countries.
Photos of local crafts, markets and city scenes give a lively impression of 19th-century life in the Caucasus. The fact that Ermakov was already renowned in his own time is demonstrated by the fact that he was the official photographer to the Shah of erstwhile Persia.
Besides everyday scenes and portraits, Ermakov’s collection provides a very accurate picture of modernization in the Caucasus. The images illustrate the advance toward the 20th century, which is primarily oriented toward mobility and industrialization. There are shots of the construction of railways, stations and bridges, the oil fields near the city of Baku, and the opening of the first industrial exhibition in Tbilisi (1896).
In 1880, Ermakov returned to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, where he opened a photostudio in the centre of town. He had in his possession a great many photos from the then Ottoman Empire (present-day Turkey), which he supplemented with new photographic collections from third parties in the course of time. His studio was a sales outlet to collectors. Travellers, too, came to his studio to buy a photo as a souvenir. There was a choice of photos of cities, landscapes and ethnic groups from the Caucasus. The archives also show that Ermakov continued to make portraits in his studio.
The detailed administration of the collection is rather exceptional. Every negative is accompanied by a title and a sequence number, and is stored in a numbered chest. Prints of the negatives are ordered according to theme or location, and clustered in numbered photo albums. All data are brought together in indices so that Ermakov could access a corresponding negative or print in a photo album with great ease.
Photostudio in the exhibition
The exhibition presents a copy of Ermakov’s photostudio, and contains some original material from his studio. The restoration studio of the Nederlands Fotomuseum is also on show, where the visitor can catch a glimpse of the specialist preservation and restoration work performed by the Nederlands Fotomuseum behind the scenes.
Ermakov collection on tour after the restoration
With more than 20,000 original prints, around 16,000 glass negatives, 13,000 stereo photocards, more than 100 photo albums and various cameras, the National Museum of Georgia is the proud owner of most of Ermakov’s collection. The rich archives are among the very few photo archives from that period that are relatively complete, thus making them of great historical significance.
From 1999 to 2010, the restoration studio of the Nederlands Fotomuseum worked with the National Museum of Georgia on the restoration, conservation and inventory of this archive, supported by a generous financial contribution from Stichting Horizon. An exceptional selection from Ermakov’s archives will be presented in the Nederlands Fotomuseum to conclude this substantial restoration project. The exhibition will later be on display in the Dahlem Museum in Berlin, the Historische Huizen in Ghent, and the National Museum of Georgia in Tbilisi.
The exhibition was made possible by the collaborative efforts of the National Museum of Georgia, the Nederlands Fotomuseum, and Stichting Horizon.
With thanks to:
Stichting Horizon | National Museum of Georgia | Flora Family Foundation (U.S.A.) | The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science | The Municipality of Rotterdam | the BankGiro Lottery | Prins Bernhard Culture Fund | Wertheimer Fund | OVG | Port of Rotterdam | Historische Huizen (Ghent)