Abstract

Traveling in Russia and Central Asia in 1932–33, the German-Jewish portrait photographer Lotte Jacobi produced an extraordinary archive of several thousand photographs documenting Soviet industrialization, collectivization, modernization, and, most profoundly, the revolution's human face. Yet she never assembled a photo book or other reflection about her experience. Based on a study of the archive in its entirety, this essay tells the story of Jacobi's journey through the lens of her photographs, building a portrait of the worlds in which she moved under the auspices of the Soviet photo agency Soiuzfoto. It discusses her portrayal of a diverse array of workers, collective farmers, peasants, street traders, intellectuals, and political figures, first in Moscow and Michurinsk and then in the newly established socialist republics of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, where she was hosted by leading indigenous communists such as Abdurahim Hojiboyev and Fayzulla Xo'jayev. The essay theorizes some of the key problems that her corpus raises: the relative weight of political commitment and external control in its production; whether it operates in a realist or mythic mode; the extent to which it presents Soviet Russia's role in Central Asia as that of a modernizing state or colonizing empire, as its tsarist predecessor had been; and the critical status of what she called “types” with respect to the nineteenth-century racist “type” photograph. A coda considers Jacobi's belated return to her Soviet corpus for the first time in the late 1950s and early '60s, a period characterized by a post-Stalinist thaw and the nominal end of the Red Scare in the United States, to which she had emigrated in 1935 in the wake of Hitler's appointment as chancellor and Germany's subsequent transformation into a one-party dictatorship.

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