The photograph above shows, from left to right, Olga, Maria and Tatiana. They are sitting in the park of one of their palaces and their parents are nearby. As was their mother's custom, the Empress has dressed her two oldest girls in identical outfits. The Tsar has handed Maria one of his Fabergé cigarette cases to play with and Tatiana has a Fabergé case of her mother's to hold while the photograph was taken. This shot is one of a series of pictures taken of the children in a single session.
A picture like this one could be bought all over the city of St. Petersburg. Photographers were allowed to sell copies of the official portraits they had taken of the Tsar and his family to the public and made quite a lot of money this way. Large quantities of these pictures were also delivered to the Imperial family to be distributed by them. Many of these were signed by the family with the current year. Since these pictures might be used over several years they sometimes carry dates much later than the year in which they were taken.
In 1900 all photographs of the Imperial family sold in Russia had to carry a special stamp saying they were officially approved. The chief photographers in St. Petersburg in 1900 included Hahn, Pasetti, Levitsky, and Boissonnas & Eggler. Most of them had shops in the center of town.
There was a real explosion of photography in Russia around 1900 when the Kodak Brownie camera made it's appearance. The Brownie was inexpensive - selling for around $1.00 the early 1900's (the equivalent of $19.00 today). Besides being inexpensive the camera was extremely easy to use and the removable film roll meant many pictures could be taken at one time. When the Brownie camera came to Russia members of the Imperial family were trained by Kodak staff in how to use it. Kodak had stores all over Russia and did a substantial business there. Each member of the Imperial family placed their orders for film and cameras directly with Kodak and the bills were paid out of their own budgets. Alexandra approved the expenses for her daughters and herself, while Nicholas did the same for himself and Aleksey. The personal photographs the family took were developed by palace staff. Pictures that pleased the Romanovs were copied and sent to friends and family members.
Nicholas and his family were great collectors of photographs. Pictures were carefully pasted in big albums, many of them green and stamped with gold crowns. These albums were all over the private quarters of the family, but all of the Tsars were kept stacked up on the ledge of the balcony of his New Study in the Alexander Palace. In dozens and dozens of volumes they covered his entire life from childhood right up to his exile to Siberia in 1917.
Next photograph: The Imperial Chapel at Peterhof Palace
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