The pioneers of photography in the provincial centers of Eastern and Central Europe, such as Michał Greim in Kamianets-Podilskiyi, Juliusz Dutkiewicz in Kolomyia, Friedrich Schmack in Chernitvsi, Bernard Henner in Przemyśl, Ignacy Krieger in Cracow specialized in the genre of types. These were theatrically staged atelier photographs of the representatives of a given ethnicity or social group dressed in their peculiar folk costume and provided with the characteristic props defining their profession. Sold as single images or in cycles, in cabinet or carte de visite formats, in black-and-white or coloured versions, they became a popular form of entertainment among the local aristocracy and intelligentsia. The representatives of the elites not only collected such images but willingly dressed up in the folk costumes and played the role of models. Usually, however, members of the communities (sometimes even named in the picture’s description) stood in front of the camera. The photographers employed water-colourists, who primarily used their skills to bring out the bright colours of the folk dress – the main element of the picture – and make the genre even more attractive.

The origins of the genre of type photography is not commercial but scientific. Behind the activity of each Eastern European studio specializing in the genre always stood a collaboration with a folklorist or learned society, usually in view of an exhibition. A good example is provided by Julian Dutkiewicz and Alfred Sylkiewicz, whose experiments with type photography intensified and acquired universal appraisal with their involvement in the staging of two ethnographic exhibitions: in Kolomyia (1880) and Ternopil (1887) respectively. Both shows focused on discovery, the fashioning and photographic staging of the several Ruthenian (Ukrainian) highlander peoples inhabiting the isolated areas of the Carpathian mountains, and on their peculiar and colourful culture and customs. Both exhibitions were organized in especially build wooden pavilions in public parks. Both were filled with distinctive textiles, furriery, cooperage, woodenwares, pottery, cheeses, smoked meats, fishes, hunting, fishing and farm products: all acquired from the locals. Following the patterns of international ethnographic shows, in the entrance to the exhibition pavilion in Kolomyia twenty four mannequins stood in careful arrangement, representing the peculiar female and male dress of the six counties, and in addition there was a special section with models of farmhouses. In Ternopil the overview of the highlanders was even more impressive. Arguably, the richness of the dress and the ethnic diversity, once again the central and most appealing part of the show, was presented by means of a ‘living exhibition’ arranged in the park. Here, in front of the pavilion, one could walk in the main alley and admire around forty folk groups in Sunday dress, representing the entire region.

Julian Dutkiewicz, who from 1871 ran a studio in Kolomyia, was asked by the 1880 exhibition’s committee composed of Galician scholars, collectors and aristocrats to prepare a large selection of photographs illustrating the landscape, people and customs of the highlander region, which was arranged in a special space of the Kolomyia wooden pavilion. Dutkiewicz not only provided numerous atelier types, but he also conducted the first outdoor survey in the region, executing photographs of the whole village communities, of their housings and customs. Alfred Silkiewicz, a professional photographer in Ternopil was commissioned to do a full survey of the live exhibition, consisting of pictures of each folk group. Importantly, this was conceived as something more than a simple documentation of the original ethnographic display, which was staged only for the short time span of the imperial visit. The exceptional and ephemeral gathering of the typical representatives, dressed in traditional costumes from the whole of Eastern Galicia, provided an opportunity for an extraordinary documentation, produced in just a day and in the same conditions, by just one photographer Moreover, photography was exactly the tool which best captured the Committee’s scientific idea of presenting the peculiarity and richness of the folklore of Galicia by means of costumes worn by authentic folk.

Both exhibitions were important events in the cultural and political life of Eastern Galicia organized in the occasion of the imperial inspection tours (the emperor Francis Joseph and Rudolph the Crown Prince of Austria respectively). They were ephemeral events, staged for a short time span of just a few days. However, both were central elements in the identity identity-building among the Polish and Ruthenian intellectual elites in the reality of the multi-ethnic Austro-Hungarian Empire. In the last decades of the 19th century the isolated and backward areas of the Carpathian mountains with its peculiar and colourful culture and customs became an object of a true cultural fascination. The Polish and Ruthenian scholars, aristocrats and intellectuals side by side discovered this world as an important element of the sheared cultural identity. This vision, moreover, was inscribed in an official imperial cultural policy. In 1883 the Crown Prince Rudolph launched the ambitious project of creating a luxurious illustrated encyclopedia of all the regions of Austria-Hungary (the Kronprinzenwerk). Its motto, ‘Knowledge is Conciliation’, pointed out the role accorded to ethnography and history in the political and cultural plans for the Empire. It was Rudolf’s belief that through an even-handed research of all the peoples inhabiting Austria-Hungary, and through its attractive, accessible and visual presentation, it was possible to create a supranational sense of imperial belonging.

The numerous examples of such photographs, preserved today in the Central and Eastern European museum and library collections are not only testify to the late 19th century vogue of such a genre but also to the bygone tamed reality of the multi-ethnic small towns and villages of Eastern and Central Europe. They were characterized by a social, cultural, economic, and landscape’s reality in which the Ukrainians, Moldovans, Jews, Russians, Tatars, Gagauz people, Germans, Bulgarians, Moldovans or Poles lived side-by-side for ages, their lives, cultures and traditions often crisscrossing. After the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire the Carpathian mountains region split between Poland, Romania, Ukraine and Slovakia became just a folkloristic and touristic attraction. The colourful culture of the highlanders was seen just as a regional peculiarity of the new nation states.

List of ilustrations:

  • Dutkiewicz Juliusz, The exhibition pavillion in Kolomyia 1880, National Museum in Warsaw DI 38314
  • Dutkiewicz Juliusz, A young Hutsul after 1880 National Library Warsaw, F26774G
  • I Krieger Ethnographic types from Cracow Polish Academy of Learning 1870-1880_ PAU_BZS_RKPS_12501_k_2
  • M Greim A Roma begger from Bessarabia 1879 Cracow Polish Academy of Learning_BZS_RKPS_12219_k_73