Guardian of the pristine Crimea
Sokornov VN, 1890's.
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Guardian of the pristine Crimea

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It often happens in life that people and figures who have served the community or a cause the most, due to the indifference of the authorities and their descendants, plunge into the sea of ​​oblivion. This feature was most characteristic of the criminal communist system. It has deliberately erased tens of thousands of prominent personalities from human memory, which has also largely destroyed the nation’s genetic code.

Guardian of the pristine Crimea
Dead city of Chufut-Kale, near Bakhchisarai, 1911.

If you ask today not only the average Crimean resident or illegal migrants from the very common category of “visitors”, but also noisy home-grown professional screamers-patriots, what they know about a whole galaxy of prominent figures of the past (even ethnic Russians), then from their poor intellectually -intentional backstage, they will be able to extract only the names of the prostitute queen and a few more bloody conquerors, field marshals. This is the whole baggage of historical knowledge of many Crimean cheerleaders. So it is not surprising that with such an imperial upbringing, thousands of bright personalities and prominent figures were left out of the attention of poorly educated descendants.

It is quite natural that in the occupied Crimea in the smoke of imperial hysteria did not notice the 150th anniversary of the outstanding Crimean photographer Vasily Sokornov, an ethnic Russian. I discovered this great photographer during my student years, when I got acquainted with the most outstanding scientific work on horticulture of the twentieth century – the first volume of “Crimean Industrial Fruit Growing” by the gardening genius of Ukraine Levko Symyrenko.

Back in those distant years, he drew attention to the highly artistic illustrations of the famous Symyrenko’s work. They belonged to the forgotten photographer Vasyl Sokornov. In the preface to the 1st volume, Levko Simirenko expressed his sincere gratitude for the permission to use his picturesque photographs. Unfortunately, the scientist-gardener, burdened with a huge amount of scientific material, in his work says almost nothing about the people whose research he refers to or expresses his gratitude to them for their help. Then I realized well that the triumphant success of Symyrenko’s work, and not only in the then Russian Empire, was largely due to the use of sound illustrative material and, above all, high-quality landscape photographs by Vasily Sokornov.

The scientist had the opportunity to get acquainted with the works of the photographer at exhibitions in Simferopol, St. Petersburg and Paris. The life paths of these two prominent personalities often intersected in the Crimea. Unfortunately, in the modern literature on art photography there is no information about the Crimean artist. And if it were not for the work of the Ukrainian scientist-gardener, long-term researcher and unsurpassed expert on Crimean gardening Levko Symyrenko, the name of the once well-known and very popular photographer would have been lost. After all, the vast majority of his photographs were published on postcards. Much of them were lost.

Guardian of the pristine Crimea
Sokornov VN, 1890’s.

Documents and publications about the life and work of the famous artist are almost not preserved. As a result of a long search even before the Russian occupation of Crimea, it became known that Vasily Nikandrovich Sokornov was born on February 27, 1867 in the village of Vasylivsky, Shubsky District, Vladimir Province. The future artist received his primary education at the Lushnykivsky School in the Ostrogozhsky District of the Voronezh Province. The boy was fond of painting and showed great artistic flair. He did not have the funds for full-time education at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, so after passing the exams he was accepted as a free student of the painting department. The guy worked as a retoucher in the famous metropolitan photo studio Pazetti. The owner of the workshop, appreciating the retoucher’s skill and considering his difficulties, instructed him to retouch and paint a large photo portrait of the daughter of a wealthy man.Pazetti sent this portrait to an international exhibition held in Paris, where he was highly praised – he received a gold medal. The high award encouraged the young master, convincing him that he was ready to work independently. However, the capital’s climate, quite cold and humid, caused the young man’s illness, apparently, tuberculosis. Doctors recommended that he go to the Crimea for treatment. The Society for the Promotion of Young Artists has allocated small funds for this. Sokornov leaves the capital and goes to Alushta.

Acquaintances recommended him housing with full board with a young widow Stakovskaya. But the funds allocated by the Society soon ran out. The artist, in order to overcome the difficulties and continue the treatment, tries to write sketches of the picturesque surroundings of the small village of Alushta. The surrounding mountain forests and the sea inspired creativity. The artist tried to sell his works to vacationers through a local shop, but they were almost never sold. But vacationers in Alushta and Yalta, which Sokornov often visited, willingly bought foreign postcards with landscape photographs of the South Coast.

Guardian of the pristine Crimea
In the mountains above Alupka, 1905.

The master recalled his former favorite business and came to the conclusion that postcards could be made more professionally than foreigners did. He decided to return to his first profession. However, he did not have the money to equip the photo lab and purchase valuable reagents. The landlady, sympathizing with Sokornov, decided to help. And the artist, having acquired everything necessary and equipped a photo laboratory, undertakes a business well known since his youth.

Soon Sokornov’s works became interested in the then popular magazines “Field”, “Sun of Russia”, “Open Letter”. Recognition and well-deserved glory come to the master. From the magazine “Sun of Russia” there is a tempting offer to publish an album of photos, and already in 1902 the photo album “Views of Crimea” appeared in a trade network and got to the European countries. Levko Simirenko, with the permission of the author, used these photos to illustrate his scientific work “Crimean Industrial Fruit Growing”. The reprint edition of the first volume of Crimean Industrial Fruit Growing, published by Tavria in 2001, breathed new life into the photographs of the outstanding master.

At different times of the year, traveling along the South Coast, the photographer, burdened with bulky photographic equipment, almost every day made long exhausting expeditions in search of unique photographic objects. Sokornov’s photographs immortalized the master’s routes: the outskirts of Yalta, Alushta, Simeiz, Bakhchisarai, Sevastopol.

The artist had a unique sense of Crimean nature. He saw what was inaccessible to others. As a result of hard work and research, he chose such compositional angles of landscape objects that could not be reproduced by another specialist. Today, even experienced masters wonder how it was possible to create such artistic masterpieces with the photographic equipment of that time. Vasily Sokornov’s photographs have preserved for future generations the pristine appearance of most of the southern coastal resort towns and famous dachas.

Guardian of the pristine Crimea
Winter day in the Crimea, 1912.

During the years of red and white terror in the Crimea, the artist created almost nothing. He was not particularly creative under Soviet rule. Only in 1929 in Yalta, on Masandrivska Street, in the house № 24, Krymderzhvydav organized a photo studio, where Vasyl Sokornov was invited. In 1931, the master handed over 1,300 negatives of the Crimean landscapes to this bureaucratic and highly politicized organization. However, this unique artistic wealth did not interest government officials. It was more important for them to popularize working days and celebrate the unprecedented successes of the Bolshevik government. This priceless collection has disappeared into the publishing slums. Before the war, the artist, who was concerned about the fate of his creative heritage, selected the 25 best landscape negatives for transfer to his native Academy of Painting in Leningrad. But World War II, which soon began,violated the artist’s plans. Vasily Sokornov died at the age of 80, buried in the old Alushta cemetery.

Specialists from the Yalta Museum of Local Lore even before the occupation of Crimea collected a collection of photographs, numbering more than 70 photographs. After all, this is all that is left of the master’s gift to the Alupkin Museum in 1946. Thus, in the postwar years, almost 30 percent of the collection of photographs donated by the artist disappeared without a trace. Apparently, Sokornov’s unique landscape photographs have disappeared without a trace.

Petro Volvach, “Crimean Room” № 29, 2017

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The project was implemented with the support of the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation

Petro Volvach

Author of cultural materials, full member of NTSh, member of NSPU, honored worker of science and technology of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Crimean citizen with 60 years of experience, journalist of the newspaper "Crimean room". Publisher: «Publishing House “Ukrainian Culture» LLC

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