Vincent Soboleff

A book of pictures by the Russian-American photographer Vincent Soboleff was recently published [1]. It is a treasure-trove of historical significance, a sympathetic portrayal of the native Alaskan peoples, an important ethnographic resource.

Soboleff was born in Killisnoo in 1882. His father was a well-respected Russian Orthodox priest. Soboleff started his photographic career young, and continued until the 1910s when, on his father’s death, he had to take up regular employment to support the family. After his death in 1950, the bulk of his collection was given over to the Alaska State Library.

At a time when racial integration was a fraught exercise, the multiethnic Killisnoo appeared to be an exceptional community. Soboleff was able to move between its constituents with ease, and the pictures he took are a veritable celebration.

His photographs depict local buildings and landscapes, maritime culture, and the Tlingit, Russian-American, European-American and Asian-American residents of Killisnoo and a nearby town, Angoon. Mr. Kan’s rigorous study focuses on the pictures of people, particularly scenes of work, celebration and play, as well as of the interface between Native and non-Native populations. [3]

Check out some of them below.

priestsobolefflastyears

Ivan Soboleff, the photographer’s father, late in life.

boyscooking

Three boys cooking.

chiefjakeofkillisnooinsulted

Chief Jake of Killisnoo Insulted.

queer rocks

Queer Rocks (southeastern Alaska).

soboleffs first boat

Soboleff’s first boat.

soboleff

Vincent Soboleff himself.

watertank

Three kids and a water tank.

unknowngirl

Unknown girl.

costumedboys

Boys in traditional costume.

salmoncaught

Catching a salmon.

angoonnatives

Angoon natives.

3kids

Three kids.

References

  1. Sergei Kan, A Russian American Photographer in Tlingit Country: Vincent Soboleff in Alaska.
  2. Alaska’s Digital Archives: Vincent Soboleff Photograph Collection.
  3. Lens blog (New York Times): A Russian-American Photographing Native Alaska.
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