APROPOS OF THE WET SNOW: SIBERIA IN SMALL SNAPSHOTS FROM THE JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF COLLECTION AT THE WOLFSONIAN-FIU LIBRARY
Today’s blog post discusses a rare (if not unique) set of small format photograph albums. These albums document an almost forgotten episode involving Japanese naval and military intervention in the Russian Civil War between “Red” and “White” armies in the wake of the First World War I. These items (and hundreds of other rare books and photograph albums) were gifted to the Wolfsonian-FIU library by our long-time supporters, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf. The Sharf’s generosity also included funding for our Sharf Associate Librarian Rochelle Pienn, who has been busy accessioning and cataloging these materials, and who has put together today’s blog post. Here is her report:
Credit: Portrait of Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Vasily Grigorievich Perov, 1872. Housed at the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia.
In the thick humidity of July in Miami, it’s nearly impossible to imagine the brutal blizzard-like temperatures suffered by the great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky in a turn-of-the-century Siberian prison camp. The thought is not the cheeriest; yet, for the West, Siberia seemed an endless, vague abstraction of pitiless ice and snow via the author’s classic literary and semi-autobiographical book, Crime and Punishment. A recent discovery of two miniature photograph albums in the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf collection illuminates a seldom studied period of history in this enigmatic tundra. The tiny pictures only give us a tantalizing glimpse of Russia’s past.
Had Dostoyevsky still been alive at the time this album was produced, no doubt his socialist soul would respond with political passion. The photos, taken by an unidentified Japanese Imperial Navy officer, show coastal Siberia and Port Arthur, Vladivostok during the 1920s. This period is concurrent with the Japanese participation in the Siberian Intervention, an Allied effort to work with the White Army against the Red (Bolsheviks) in the Russian Civil War. The Japanese followed these unsuccessful military ventures with their own occupation of Siberia. The harsh environment soon forced them to retreat as well.
The unidentified officer was stationed on board the Nisshin, a Garibaldi armored cruiser originally launched in 1903.
Here the crew poses at the craggy shore.
Two Russian children and their pets are seen in the foreground of this photograph. The wood frame vernacular construction and stacked-stone chimney of the house in the background are distinct characteristics of Russian homes.
The naval officers pose near a reluctant horse outside a fenced residence. Note the typical window shutters in the Russian style.
This whimsical shot shows Japanese nurses involved in an undetermined activity (perhaps flying a kite, or losing control of a laundry line) while an officer sits on a bench.
A carefree attitude is expressed by the jovial ship’s crew in this group portrait.
This album page shows a variety of the officers’ activities.
View from a porthole.
The European and American Allies were quick to pose when beautiful Japanese women were present.
The serious aspect of their mission includes imposing artillery.
The windblown, tattered flag of the Imperial Japanese Navy.
Standing on top of ice floes.
In an even more miniscule companion photograph album containing practically postage-stamp size pictures, our unidentified naval officer enters what could be Harbin, China, by way of Siberian ice-breaker ship.
Harbin became a Russian province of China where Imperial sympathizers fled from the Bolsheviks. It was also a city where Russian Jewry created strong roots in China, eventually moving to Japan when the Chinese reclaimed the area.
Bundled-up ice workers carried ice picks and burlap sacks.
A local clerk officiates paperwork.
The album ends with a timeless winter figure-skating scene.
Leo Tolstoy, at least, would have approved.
Credit: Anna Karenina. Focus Pictures: 2012.