If you go to the very outer edge of nowhere, turn right and keep walking you may eventually get to Kamchatka. The indigenous Koryaks, call it “The Land of Fire and Ice”. It’s a 777 mile long peninsular at the farthest end of far eastern Russia, where the land mass reverses direction like a barb.
Perhaps the land didn’t want to venure any further east, and who can blame it? Here, arctic winds from Siberia combine with the coldest current the Sea of Japan can muster, icing the place in snow for 8 months a year. From October through to late May. That’s the “Ice” bit.
The “Fire”? This is provided by endless volcanoes and, 500 metres below ground water boils at temperatures up to 250°C. Bubbling water that lays in wait, always steaming and regularly erupting in enormous geysers to cool down, surrounded by snow, in hot spring pools. Kamchatkavics have the 2nd largest concentration of geysers on the planet.
There’s just one section in the archives of the The Kamchatka Regional Unified Museum that covers the place at the turn of the century. It’s called “Kamchatka in the early 20th Century”. This archive consists of a single album of battered, dog-eared, creased and generally distressed photographs. The century-old album was given to the museum by Mikhail Petrovich Vol’skii, a former chairman of the area’s regional soviet committee in the 1920s – 1930s. Of the 296 photographs in the album, the vast majority (277) were taken by one man.
At the turn of the century there were around ten thousand people in the entire forsaken place. Ivan Emelianovich Larin (1890-1980) was one of them, and he had a camera. Of Larin, next to nothing is known. The 27 year old Larin came to Kamchatka in 1917. He stayed until 1934, was a prominent communist and the chairman of Kamchatka’s first regional soviet. Larin’s prints, even though they looks like they’ve been used as a carpet for a century, offer us up (if we want it) a on-off portal into life in The Land of Fire & Ice. Larin’s photographic panopoly of life in Russia’s furthest eastern outpost at the dawn of the 20th century is brutal and elemental. It includes scenes of Kamchatka, views of Petropavlovsk and other population centers, but best of all he covers off for us the images we’d want. The indigenous Koryak people reindeer hunting (tick), seal hunting (tick), fishing (tick), the volcanoes (tick), the volcanoes erupting (tick), the geysers (tick), the old ships that come to the tiny harbour (tick) and more.
“Kamchatka in the early 20th Century” (tick). The battered album covers it.
All the dated images are from the perios 1910 – 1928. Only a few have readable, translatable or dated captions.
Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy is now a city, the administrative, industrial, scientific, and cultural center of Kamchatka. The city is situated on high hills and is completely surrounded by volcanoes. So many volcanoes in fact, that the horizon cannot be seen from anywhere in town. The valley of the Kamchatka River is flanked by a huge underground volcanic belt. This belt fuels over 160 volcanoes, 29 of which are still active. 19 of these are classed as active. The Kamchatka peninsular is the most volcanic area in the entire Eurasian continent.