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German by birth, Russian by vocation: The Presidential Library showcases photographs of Russia's first photojournalist Karl Bulla

12 October 2018

The fate of Karl Bulla (1855–1929) is unique, he was born in Prussia, moved to St. Petersburg at the age of 11, and became the first and the most famous Russian photojournalist and founder of a whole dynasty of photographers and cameramen.  

Firstly, because he and his sons Alexander (1881–1943) and Victor (1883–1938), as well as his grandson Yuri (1919–1941), captured all the key events in the national history of the late XIX - first half of XX century. Secondly, the very existence of the Bulla dynasty is one of the best examples of constructive Russian-German relations. Despite the military conflicts between our countries (World War I and World War II), the German Karl Bulla and his descendants served Russia wholeheartedly. Karl Karlovich continued to work as a court photographer of the Russian royal family, his eldest son Alexander fought for Russia in 1914–1917, the youngest Viktor was a photojournalist during the Russian-Japanese war, and Victor’s son Yuri went to the front to fight Nazi Germany and disappeared without a trace at the end of 1941.

In 2018, the Presidential Library together with the Karl Bulla Foundation for Historical Photography features a series of events dedicated to the creative heritage of the Bulla dynasty.

On October 7–8, the 17th Petersburg Dialogue Forum was held in Moscow, dedicated to strengthening ties between Russia and Germany. Within its framework, fragments of an exhibition of photographs of the Bulla family, which the Presidential Library prepared for in-person demonstration in Germany, were showcased.

On October 12, at 16:00 Moscow time, the exhibition “The German Karl Bulla, the first Russian photojournalist” will be presented at the German-Russian Institute of Culture in Dresden, which includes more than 80 rare photos on 45 tablets. The exhibition will be introduced by the author of the photomonography “The First Russia’s Photojournalist Karl Bulla” journalist Yury Svetov. Employees and guests of the Presidential Library will participate in the opening of the exhibition via video conferencing mode

It is worth noting that the photographs shown to the European viewer are unique, many of them were still in private collections presented to the general public for the first time.

October 13, 2018 at 15:00 Moscow time, the creativity heritage of the Bulla dynasty will be presented at the Presidential Library to the guests of the 70th Frankfurt Book Fair.

In the future, it is planned to move the exhibition to other cities of Germany and central Europe, in particular, on January 17, the corresponding exhibition will be open in the Russian House of Science and Culture in Berlin.

What do these pictures show? Some can be attributed to the Russian-German relations, as discussed above. In particular, Karl Bulla filmed a visit to St. Petersburg of German Kaiser Wilhelm II and the Saxon King Frederick August III.

One part is devoted to all-Russian anniversaries: Karl Bulla along with his sons was a photo chronicler of the 200th anniversary of St. Petersburg, the 100th anniversary of Kazan Cathedral, the 300th anniversary of the House of Romanov, the opening of a monument to Emperor Alexander III, parades on Palace Square with the participation of Emperor Nicholas II and members of his family. Karl Bulla has got the highest approved permission to shoot "celebrations in the Highest Presence", "to shoot ... in general all events related to marine life", "to take photographs on the maneuvers and exercises of the troops ...".

The entire “color of society” of its time fell into the lens of cameras and cinema cameras of representatives of the Bulla dynasty. Each photograph is so well arranged, prepared, gives rise to such a vivid image that sometimes you catch yourself thinking that you have a picture, and not a photo.

For example, these photographs depict the reconstruction of the Lyceum exam of Alexander Pushkin, arranged by the artist Ilya Repin while preparing the painting “Pushkin in the Lyceum Exam”.

Other shots depict the famous actress Vera Komissarzhevskaya and the “Russian seagull variety” Anastasia Vyaltseva, the future author of “Lolita” little Volodya Nabokov, ballerina Anna Pavlova during working off of the next pas, singer Fyodor Chaliapin at the grand piano and on vacation, at the skating rink, Maxim Gorky and ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya, artist Kazimir Malevich and his famous “Black Square” right after this picture was painted and exhibited!

In 1908, Karl Bulla and his sons showed several episodes of Leo Tolstoy’s home life with his family in Yasnaya Polyana. Moreover, in one of these shots we see Karl Bull himself, who poses with the author of “War and Peace” to his son Viktor. Victor himself can be seen on the “marching card” from the Russian-Japanese war of 1904-1905, and his second son Alexander - a man with a large cinema camera alongside participants in the pre-revolutionary rally in St. Petersburg.

More than 100 thousand photographs made by Karl Bulla in 1874–1918 became an integral part of the visual image of the Russian Empire at the turn of the 19th – 20th centuries. Many of them are available as part of the exhibitions described. The Presidential Library collections contain photomonographies “The First Russia’s Photojournalist Karl Bulla” and “Bulla Dynasty: Karl. Alexander. Victor. Yuri".