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Russian Types During the 1860s, two photographers, one based in Moscow and one based in St. Petersburg, each produced a series of cartes-de-visite showing Russian types. These remarkable portraits provide a fascinating record of working-class townspeople, artisans, street vendors and peasants, some staged performing an activity, such as drinking tea or gaming, and some photographed in the performance of their occupation.
Little is known of J. Monstein of Moscow. His name suggests that he might have been German, and indeed, all the inscriptions pencilled on the back of his cartes – at least, the ones in this collection - are written in German, in the Gothic alphabet then still in use.
The life of William Carrick, however, is well documented. Born in Edinburgh in 1827, his father was a Scottish timber merchant with a business in Cronstadt, the port for St. Petersburg, where William was raised and educated. He trained at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts but in the mid-1850s switched from painting to photography, returning temporarily to Edinburgh, where he met a young professional photographer named John MacGregor. In 1859, the two men set up a studio together in St. Petersburg, the partnership lasting thirteen years, until MacGregor’s death in 1872. Carrick worked on alone, until his own death in 1878.
The business appears never to have been a great financial success, and various reasons have been suggested for this. Firstly, the cost of materials in Russia was far higher than in Western Europe; secondly, the hours of sunlight far fewer; and thirdly, the absence of a middle-class – that staple of the portrait photographer elsewhere - in the still feudal hierarchy of Russian society denied the studio a lucrative source of income. Artistically, however, Carrick did meet with some acclaim during his lifetime, and although his series of Russian types was intended principally for the tourist market, it is the work for which he is best remembered today.
© Paul Frecker (2006)