This winter an intriguing exhibition of the work of Edinburgh born photographer William Carrick (1827-78) will be on show at the Scotland-Russia Institute in Edinburgh until Jan 22.
William was the son of a prosperous Scottish timber merchant in Krondstadt, who retained close links with Scotland. William's mother, Jessie Lauder, gave birth to him in Edinburgh on New Year's Eve 1827, however he was taken to Russia a few months later where he grew up. He studied painting at the Russian Imperial Academy and in Rome.
On one of his visits to Edinburgh, the young Carrick took lessons in photography from James Good Tunny, a leading portrait photographer. In 1859, Carrick opened one of the first photographic studios in St Petersburg. The photographs that resulted provide an invaluable record of life in Imperial Russia.
William Carrick, A Chimney Sweep, 1860's.
Dating from the 1860s and 1870s, they include a series depicting life in the busy streets of St Petersburg, from the street vendors who peddled their wares on the Nevsky Prospect to nuns, priests, soldiers, street musicians and chimney sweeps. A Cossack brandishes his sabre and a fishmonger brought a barrel of live fish into the studio. A group of coach drivers sit around a samovar drinking tea, as if waiting for their next fares.
Another remarkable set of photographs he took records the life and labour of the Russian peasants in the Volga Region of Simbirsk. The recently-emancipated serfs are seen at work in the fields and at rest, posing for the camera – probably the first they had ever seen. Carrick treated all his subjects with great sympathy and still greater artistry. His humour and his humanity are evident in his photographs which, despite being called ‘types’ and intended for the tourist market, are always portraits of individuals.
William Carrick - Man with a spade, Russia 1871.
The Carrick family link with Scotland was what ensured the survival of many of his photographs and also his life story. His younger sister Jessie was sent to school in Edinburgh. She married an Englishman, and her daughter in turn married the designer, C R Ashbee. Jessie's granddaughter, Felicity Ashbee, was so intrigued by the family photograph albums, that she deciphered and transcribed the hundreds of letters that had been sent to her grandmother, telling her the news of her family in St Petersburg - and especially of her oldest brother William and his photographic ventures.
The first exhibition of Carrick's work was shown at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in 1987. The exhibition will be recreated from the originals, using digitally enhanced modern prints.
WILLIAM CARRICK: A Scottish Photographer in Nineteenth-Century Russia takes place at The Scotland-Russia Institute, 9 South College Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9AA from 4 December to 22 January 2010. Admission is free