This book is a rich record of life in small-town southeastern Alaska in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It is the first book to showcase the photographs of Vincent Soboleff, an amateur Russian American photographer whose community included Tlingit Indians from a nearby village as well as Russian Americans, so-called Creoles, who worked in a local fertilizer factory. Using a Kodak camera, Soboleff, the son of a Russian Orthodox priest, documented the life of this multiethnic parish at work and at play until 1920. Despite their significance, few of Soboleff’s photographs have been published since their discovery in 1950. Anthropologist Sergei Kan rectifies that oversight in A Russian American Photographer in Tlingit Country, which brings together more than 100 of Soboleff’s striking black-and-white images.
Combining Soboleff’s photographs with ethnographic fieldwork and archival research, Kan brings to life the communities of Killisnoo, where Soboleff grew up, and Angoon, the Tlingit village. The photographs gathered here depict Russian Creoles, Euro-Americans, the operation of the Killisnoo factory, and the daily life of its workers. But Soboleff’s work is especially valuable as a record of Tlingit life. As a member of this multiethnic community, he was able to take unusually personal photographs of people and daily life. Soboleff’s photographs offer candid and intimate glimpses into Tlingit people’s then-new economic pursuits such as commercial fishing, selling berries, and making “Indian curios” to sell to tourists. Other images show white, Creole, and Native factory workers rubbing shoulders while keeping a certain distance during leisure time.
Kan offers readers, historians, and photography lovers a beautiful visual resource on Tlingit and Russian American life that shows how the two cultures intertwined in southeastern Alaska at the turn of the past century.