History of photography in Azerbaijan or the history of Azerbaijan in photographs

History of photography in Azerbaijan or the history of Azerbaijan in photographs

The word "photography" was created from the Greek roots φωτός (phōtos), genitive of φῶς (phōs), "light" and γραφή (graphé) "representation by means of lines" or "drawing", together meaning "drawing with light…" But there’s such a moment, if we start this writing from far distance, then we won’t be able to take a photo of that very instant. After all, we wished to take the photo that reflected the moment of our meeting with Mirnasib Hasanoglu, Chair of the Azerbaijan Photographers Union – “the moment” that reflects the history of photography covering the years of 1860- 2014.

Simply, without blinking,.. read this material.

The first photographs in Azerbaijan

The oil factor stimulated the development of the art of photography in Azerbaijan. According to Sara Nezirova, who researched the history of Azerbaijan photography, the first photograph in Azerbaijan was taken in 1861.       

In the 60-s of the XIX century while carrying out hydrographical measuring in the Caspian Sea one of the expedition members captain-lieutenant A.F.Ulski shot a few pictures depicting views of Baku from the sea. These photos have become the first available samples of Azerbaijan photography. The photos that were taken in 1858-1866 reflect such beauties of the city as  The Baku Bay,  The Fatmayi Village, The Maiden Tower, The Mosque of the Shirvanshahs Palace, Castle Malls, etc… are kept in the Tbilisi City Archive office.  During the Soviet period, Nina Fisheva, director of the Azerbaijan Cinema-Photo-Documents Archive, could acquire copies of these photographs.

Later photo studios spread all over Baku were called ” Ekskhana” (the reflection parlor). One could never establish such a studio without governor’s special permission. Due to these documents the exact date of studio opening, the names of the photographers functioning in Baku at the end of XIX and the beginning of XX centuries are known to us.

Even the person from Kharkov, who brought the French cinematography to Baku three years after it had been established in France, A.M Mishon had his own “Ekskhana” in this city. At the end of XIX century he was heading the photographers’ union. Baku played a significant role in the activity of the immobile photographers, as well as the photographers – wanderers traveling in the Caucasus, including Azerbaijan. At the end of XIX and the beginning of XX centuries D.I. Yermakov was among the ones whose more than 50 photos dedicated to Azerbaijan were sent to the Russian Geographical Society. The photographers depicted the city of Baku with great love. Baku  was the leading city in the world according to its industrial growth rate at the end of the XIX century - with the scenes of villages surrounding it, oil drills, industrial constructions, road buildings, fashionable buildings erected in various architectural styles. Through the years in their galleries, these photographers portrayed the people of all layers, their lifestyle, garment and ethnic features.

In 1890, there were made attempts to establish the Baku Photographers Society. A.M Mishon jointly with the director of Realnaya Shkola (Real School) designed the Charter of the Baku Photographers Society and sent it to the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Petersburg. After four years, they officially started their activities. Initially the director of the Realnaya Shkola led the Baku Photographers Society. Members of the society paid 10 manats as a membership fee. This amount was not a small sum then. A.M. Mishon himself worked for the society’s secretariat.     

Again the Armenian finger...

In 1900, A.M. Mishon issued a journal Kavkaz i Srednyaya Aziya in the South Caucasus. This journal not regularly, but intermittently was published till 1908. In order to collect materials for the journal A. M. Mishon travelled to many places of the South Caucasus and Central Asia.

After the 1905 revolution, there was a great tension in Baku, and A.M. Mishion’s studio was robbed twice. Being bored with the court disputes with Rustamyan, an Armenian, at last A.M. Mishon left Azerbaijan in 1908.  

So, what was the reason of Rustamyan’s disturbance?

Certainly, there were material interests, as well. Mirnaib Hasanoglu says: “Once I have read such information on the documents that we have in the archive: If A.M. Mishon earned 1800 roubles per year, Rustamyan earned 3000 roubles.” But for me the second reason is more important: A. M. Mishon spread the photography through promotion. And this activity could reduce the stingy Armenian’s income, because as soon as A.M. Mishon arrived in Baku, he created a chain of photo shops titled “Ekskhana.” 

In addition, A.M. Mishon brought cinema to Baku.  Namely, the history of cinematography in Azerbaijan starts with A.M. Mishon. With his own camera he shot about 10 short films. Those films were unexampled samples that provided a vision about Azerbaijan and Baku of that time. In late XIX, along with the huge flood of businessmen and architects, significant  number of  rich people came to Azerbaijan. We know that among these people there were some Armenian photographers as well. “That time photographers used to send their photographs to Paris and get medals. Then they made notes on the back side of the photo that received a medal. It was an indication of quality and standard.” 

Who took Rasulzadeh’s photo?

In his memoirs Muhammad Amin Rasulzadeh wrote that when he was in prison with Stalin, an Azerbaijani photographer took their photo.  Unfortunately, nothing is known about that photographer.

The first Azerbaijani photographer was Azizbala Hajiyev, who represents the Hajinskis’ family line. Up to the 1917 Revolution, he had been the manager of millionaire Isa Bey Hajinski’s property in Bayil area in Baku. After the Revolution he opened a photo shop jointly with his friend – photographer Zelinski and started his activity as a photographer. Another Azerbaijani photographer – Mirjavad Akhundov also worked as a photographer that time. 

Mirjavad Akhundov studied in Moscow. He had lived and worked in Ural for a certain period of time, and then he returned to Baku. He worked as a photographer at the Nizami Museum for a long time. He was sent into exile during the repression years. When he returned from exile, he was prohibited to work as a photographer. M. Akhundov died at the age of 94.

In 1923, the Trade Union of Union of Cinema Production Workers and Photographers was established. Then, the period of kolkhoz farming and industrialization system started. And naturally, the sphere of photography developed in this direction, as well.

Mirnaib Hasanoglu always remembers his colleagues who devoted their lives to the promotion of photographing.

“In 1920, when today’s AzerTaj State Agency was established, “Azsoyuzphoto” was created under the Agency. Photographers as Ildirim Jafarov and Fikri worked there. Mirfazil Mirmovsumov, a photographer at the cinema studio had gone to the front and didn’t return,” he remembered.

“After the war new cameras were brought from Germany as salvages, and they gave a push to the development of photography in Azerbaijan. Kamal Babayev’s name was more famous then. He had worked for the State Art Museum for more than fifty years. He has a very rich archive. Faig Rajabli, a photographer had worked for the promotion of Azerbaijan sport for sixty years. He died at the age of 86,” said Mirnaib Hasanoglu.

In 60-70’s of the last century, Yashar Khalilov, Rafig Taghiyev and Ahmad Garagozov were famous photographers in Baku. 

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was a gap in photography as well. A little while later, in 1993, Rafig Gambarov, a famous cameraman managed to bring photographers together. Therefore, there was a separate stand devoted to the Azerbaijan photography in Nant, France in 1995. More than one hundred photographs from Azerbaijan were displayed at the exhibition. 



Gizilgul  ABDİNOVA