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  • Bildfabriken. Industrie und Fotografie im Zarenreich (1860–1917) [Image factories: Industry and photography in Tsarist Russia (1860–1917)] by Lenka Fehrenbach
  • Helena Holzberger (bio)
Bildfabriken. Industrie und Fotografie im Zarenreich (1860–1917) [Image factories: Industry and photography in Tsarist Russia (1860–1917)] By Lenka Fehrenbach. Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2020. Pp. 476.

Lenka Fehrenbach focuses her dissertation on photographs of factories in Tsarist Russia. In doing so, she follows up on Rosalinde Sartorti's study (Press Photography and Industrialization in the Soviet Union, 1981), which analyzes the interaction of photography and Soviet industrialization on the basis of the Soviet Pravda, the former official newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Fehrenbach, however, does not limit herself to newspapers, but deliberately chooses various media like albums, postcards, and single vintage prints. Her period of study begins in the 1860s and ends with the Russian Revolution, including an outlook of the continuities and ruptures within Soviet industrial photography. Fehrenbach considers photographs as sources that have special potential, in Peter Burke's sense of Eyewitnessing (Cornell University Press, 2001), to show how people appropriated their reality in the past. She claims that both state and private industrialists were open to new media and contributed to the further development of photography through financial commitment (p. 16).

The book's structure is mosaic-like; introductory chapters on the historical context are followed by chapters organized by genre, and at the end by two chronologically structured chapters. Each of these is subject to its own research method and theoretical framing.

In her historical introduction, the author describes the development of photography in Russia in terms of the history of industrialization. At the end of the discussion of the cultural-historical discourse, she begins to develop her claim—namely that against the backdrop of critical debates about industrialization, industrialists used photography as a key tool "to position themselves in positive light as much as possible" (p. 59).

This thesis is further developed in the chapter on factory albums, after short chapters on factories in the visual arts, and ways pictures were generally used in factories. Fehrenbach has managed to find a remarkable number of factory albums in Russian archives, which she analyzes in the fifth chapter. She can show how they were consciously intended to give evidence of a healthy workplace and therefore reflect the wider discourse on industrialization. The author proves furthermore how the view of and into the factory became increasingly specific, changing from a kind of landscape representation of the factory building to a differentiated documentation of individual elements in the factory. [End Page 286]

Nonetheless, this chapter reveals that Fehrenbach may have missed a deeper level of analysis due to the multitude of approaches. First, Fehrenbach refers to sociological-constructivist spatial theories with which she wants to examine the albums (pp. 104–5). She then mentions Bourdieu's capital theory (p. 117). Next, she moves to cultural-historical research on melancholy (p. 142). Following this, she turns to the philosophical man-machine discourse as explanatory means (pp. 151–53). Finally, she concludes with the omnipresent Roland Barthes. Fehrenbach doesn't stringently pursue any of these approaches in her analysis or take them up again—a pattern that continues throughout the study.

Nevertheless, Fehrenbach demonstrates that industrialists have used the new technology of photography consciously for their own interests. The peak of this phenomenon was in 1912, when the weapons factory in Tula produced Jubilee albums in two versions: one designed for workers to identify with the factory through a lot of pictures of the factory side, their work there, and a citation of Tsar Alexander I praising the labor in the factory. The album designed for the elite contains more chronical text and citations of Catherina II praising the wars won through modern weapons, so they could locate themselves in a larger imperial context. Picture postcards meanwhile made new industrial areas visible for the first time throughout the Russian Empire and at the same time had a local identity-forming effect as such. Her elaborate analysis of six illustrated periodicals also strengthens this thesis. While journalists and editors were only interested in factories in the event of a catastrophe...


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