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.