MAXIM PETROVICH DMITRIEV – FOUNDER OF RUSSIAN PHOTO-PUBLICISM AND FAMOUS PHOTOGRAPH-DOCUMENTARY
All historians and ethnographers who studied Russia in the middle of the 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as the lovers of literature and music of that time, are obliged to Nizhny Novgorod photographer Maxim Petrovich Dmitriev. Few of his contemporaries, colleagues have left so extensive and valuable photo-inheritance.
Dmitriev almost single-handedly laid the foundations of photo-journalism in Russia, he is the ancestor of reportage photography, and in its modern sense. Maxim Petrovich photographed ordinary peasants and laborers, and not just lush processions (although he also worked at the city’s exhibition on the arrival of Nicholas II). The photographer used all the achievements of the progress of that time – large-format cameras, gum arabic, printing on wood and matter.
Maxim Dmitriev was also an outstanding portrait painter. He photographed Maxim Gorky with his family (the writer has been friends with him for many decades), Fyodor Shalyapin, Ivan Bunin, Dmitry Mendeleev, Vladimir Gilyarovsky and other representatives of the cream of Russian science and culture visited his studio home. The famous critic Vladimir Stasov, a friend of Lev Tolstoy, said that even in Europe he did not see pictures comparable to Dmitriev’s works.
Maxim Petrovich actively participated in the life of the province – he shot its inhabitants, landscapes, made city sketches, went to the Old Believers-Kerzhak and Vyksa workers. During a drought and a typhoid epidemic at the end of the 19th century, he created a series of strong images about poor people and contributed to drawing attention to their grief. He was not an outside observer, he was engaged in a lot of charity work as well as ethnographic research.
Dmitriyev’s grandiose work — a photocade about the Volga and the Volga region a decade long — brought him honorary membership in the Russian Geographical Society. Pictures from the series are used in almost all scientific publications on the history of the region and Russia of the XIX century, they captured architectural monuments, mounds and mountains, towns of the Volga region and representatives of ethnic groups living there.
Being a patriot of his land, Dmitriev was not a disintegrate. It combined professional skill, publicist talent and commercial vein. He knew how to accurately calculate success, to attract attention to himself, entrepreneurial talent allowed him to become the owner of his own photo studio as a pupil of a childless peasant.
Maxim Dmitriev was born in 1858. At the age of 2 years, he broke up with his mother, a courtyard Tambov landowner. Before adolescence, he lived with a peasant who had no children. After studying in the parish school, the boy began to earn a living and at the age of 14 he moved to Moscow. His mother was able to “attach” her son as an apprentice to a photographer, and within a few months Maxim mastered the skills that others took years to complete.
The basis of composition, the concept of perspective and work with light and light of a young man studied, doing on weekends in “Stroganovka” (the famous art school) and retouching photos. In the mid-70s of the 19th century, he first came to the Nizhny Novgorod fair and, in his spare time, enthusiastically roamed in a crowd with a portable camera. There he met the famous local photographer A. Karelin, who immediately liked the brisk and clearly talented young man.
Dmitriev could not become a student of the master with European fame – he had not yet completed a six-year contract in Moscow. The young photographer was lucky – the owner of the studio sold the business, which made it possible to terminate the contract and leave for Nizhny. There Dmitriev first work with a student Karelin, and then went to him as an assistant. In addition to valuable skills and knowledge about light, optics and painting, the young photographer was able to save up money, which was enough to open his photo studio.
Brilliant debut, European fame and life under Soviet rule
After several years of disagreement with a business partner, Dmitriev was able to open his personal studio – it became the sixth in Nizhny Novgorod. Artistic and business flair, vigor and skill helped him to win the competition. The final success came to him in 1889, after a series of works from the anniversary of the Moscow photo exhibition. The photographer prudently put the address of his studio in the photographs and spoke about the debutant.
After the success in Moscow, it was the turn of the capital, where the “Volga collection” brought praise to the author. The following exhibitions of Dmitriev took place in Odessa, Kazan and other cities. The photographer began to receive numerous orders, he worked a lot and was forced to expand his studio.
To the famous photo-pavilion with glass walls and a roof for the whole of Nizhny Novgorod, brick barns were added, where a huge archive of Dmitriev was kept. On the first floor of the house there was a phototype, where postcards with views and portraits of famous models of the photographer were issued, and on the third floor he lived with his family.The next stage of Dmitriev’s career was success in Europe and the USA. His works were exhibited there, they were honored with new awards. At a photo exhibition in Paris, the photographer showed not only award-winning photographs, but also sharp social shots in which prisoners were taken at the construction site. This displeased the Russian critics and attracted the attention of the European public to the work.
At the same time, the photographer made a series of photographs of the crop failure in the Nizhny Novgorod province and began the Volga cycle, which was completed only in 1903. The series includes a photo of the river from Astrakhan to Rybinsk, and the whole author made thousands of shots. Unfortunately, repeatedly replicated photos did not bring him royalties due to the imperfection of copyright laws.
After the revolution, Maxim Dmitriev remained to live in Nizhny Novgorod. At first, his photo studio was heavily taxed, and then nationalized — even the intercession of Maxim Gorky did not help.
Invaluable negatives were taken out, many of them disappeared while moving. The photographer continued to be involved in creative work as much as he could and until the last days was interested in the novelties of the photo industry.
After his death in 1948, the first photo museum in Russia was opened in the building of his former atelier, where even today fans can see the fruits of the outstanding talent of Maxim Dmitriev.