Places of Origin

Last week I encountered two wonderful sources of history in photography and film.

First, I highly recommend perusal of color photographs of Russia taken in the 1900s and 1910s by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. The photo gallery comes to us courtesy of the Denver Post.

Well, let me say that these photographs entirely captivate me. I saw very little of Russia’s countryside—what I did see was through a bus or train window. The humility and majesty of these Russian landscapes make me aware of all that I missed (see #41 “General view of the Shakh-i Zindeh mosque” and #47 “General view of the Likanskii palace”). Equally as beautiful is the diversity of Russia’s ethnic groups, including Ukrainians, Dagestani, and Georgians. The fact that these photographs were taken so long ago, before the Russian Revolution, gives all these images a haunting quality (see #18 “Boy standing by wooden gatepost” and #42 “Shepherd posed near a hillside”). For me there is a clear sense of looking at lost things. Altogether, this collection offers us an opportunity to honor Russia, past and present.

Another marvelously engrossing experience came to me in the form of Faces of America, an insightful series from PBS. Parts one and two are available for viewing on the website; part three will appear this Wednesday.

Wise, sincere, and humorous, Henry Lewis Gates Jr. takes twelve American celebrities through their family histories. We learn about Stephen Colbert’s roots in Ireland, H.M. Queen Noor’s journey back to the Middle East, and the Yamaguchi family’s struggles as Japanese Americans. More importantly, we learn all of this along with them. Each American, from Mario Batali to Yo-Yo Ma, experiences moments of quiet humility and joyful surprise. And what springs from their experiences is a comprehension, not only of the trials faced by immigrants in America, but of the perils of discrimination and the necessity of welcoming others into our lives. Watch, and you’ll see!

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