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The Forgotten Photographer Of Soviet Uzbekistan

As Central Asia was transformed under Soviet rule, one man made a remarkable record of life in the fledgling Uzbek S.S.R. before being driven from his career and toward tragedy.


A worker's rally in the courtyard of a textile mill in Tashkent. Between 1925 and 1949, photographer Max Penson documented life in Soviet Uzbekistan.
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A worker's rally in the courtyard of a textile mill in Tashkent. Between 1925 and 1949, photographer Max Penson documented life in Soviet Uzbekistan.

Max Penson sits for a self portrait. The photographer was born in what is today Belarus in 1893, but fled anti-Semitic violence there after the outbreak of World War I to settle in what would become Uzbekistan.
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Max Penson sits for a self portrait. The photographer was born in what is today Belarus in 1893, but fled anti-Semitic violence there after the outbreak of World War I to settle in what would become Uzbekistan.

Girls in a classroom in Tashkent. Penson began his new life in Central Asia as an art teacher.
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Girls in a classroom in Tashkent. Penson began his new life in Central Asia as an art teacher.

One of Penson's early photographs showing a runner cheered by burqa-clad women. After winning a camera as a reward for excellence in teaching, the young immigrant threw himself into photography.
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One of Penson's early photographs showing a runner cheered by burqa-clad women. After winning a camera as a reward for excellence in teaching, the young immigrant threw himself into photography.

A woman poses with a panel of traditional Uzbek embroidery. Penson was soon employed by the Soviet newspaper Pravda Vostoka [Truth Of The East] to shoot Soviet propaganda images as well as daily life.
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A woman poses with a panel of traditional Uzbek embroidery. Penson was soon employed by the Soviet newspaper Pravda Vostoka [Truth Of The East] to shoot Soviet propaganda images as well as daily life.

Portrait of a railway worker. Penson reportedly committed himself to shooting "one roll [of film] a day."
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Portrait of a railway worker. Penson reportedly committed himself to shooting "one roll [of film] a day."

Two old Jewish men in Bukhara. Most of Penson's work was shot with 35mm film cameras, though some pictures, like this one, were shot on large-format glass plates.
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Two old Jewish men in Bukhara. Most of Penson's work was shot with 35mm film cameras, though some pictures, like this one, were shot on large-format glass plates.

Pharaonic scenes as workers hack out the Great Ferghana Canal in 1939. The 270-kilometer waterway redirected a river toward the cotton fields of southern Uzbekistan. The successful completion of the canal inspired the disastrous rerouting of rivers that would later bleed the Aral Sea nearly dry.
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Pharaonic scenes as workers hack out the Great Ferghana Canal in 1939. The 270-kilometer waterway redirected a river toward the cotton fields of southern Uzbekistan. The successful completion of the canal inspired the disastrous rerouting of rivers that would later bleed the Aral Sea nearly dry.

A Russian instructor teaching Uzbek students. Soviet rule in Uzbekistan was marked by the repression of Islam and the promotion of literacy.
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A Russian instructor teaching Uzbek students. Soviet rule in Uzbekistan was marked by the repression of Islam and the promotion of literacy.

Women in burqas on the streets of Tashkent. Scenes like this became increasingly rare under Soviet rule.
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Women in burqas on the streets of Tashkent. Scenes like this became increasingly rare under Soviet rule.

A stern-faced young Uzbek girl reading one of Lenin's tomes.
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A stern-faced young Uzbek girl reading one of Lenin's tomes.

The workshop of sculptor N. Krasovsky in 1943. The chiseled figure of a miner was later installed in central Tashkent.
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The workshop of sculptor N. Krasovsky in 1943. The chiseled figure of a miner was later installed in central Tashkent.

A boy with puppies on a collective farm.
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A boy with puppies on a collective farm.

A nurse hoses down a patient in a photograph titled In The Hospital.
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A nurse hoses down a patient in a photograph titled In The Hospital.

A clown, clowning for Penson's camera.
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A clown, clowning for Penson's camera.

Young men training at a stadium in 1940. An estimated 1.4 million people from Uzbekistan fought in the Red Army during World War II.
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Young men training at a stadium in 1940. An estimated 1.4 million people from Uzbekistan fought in the Red Army during World War II.

A boy serving as a "Live Emblem" during a march in central Tashkent. The banner proclaims a readiness "for labor and defense!"
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A boy serving as a "Live Emblem" during a march in central Tashkent. The banner proclaims a readiness "for labor and defense!"

A stockpile of newly picked cotton.
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A stockpile of newly picked cotton.

A picker flops himself onto a pile of freshly gathered cotton.
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A picker flops himself onto a pile of freshly gathered cotton.

A high-stakes tightrope walker in the 1940s.
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A high-stakes tightrope walker in the 1940s.

A lineup of young athletes in 1946. During World War II, Uzbekistan's demographic was altered dramatically when some of the U.S.S.R's heavy industry, along with its ethnic Russian and Ukrainian workforce, was evacuated to Central Asia.
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A lineup of young athletes in 1946. During World War II, Uzbekistan's demographic was altered dramatically when some of the U.S.S.R's heavy industry, along with its ethnic Russian and Ukrainian workforce, was evacuated to Central Asia.

Two acrobats with an arm-quivering display of strength.
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Two acrobats with an arm-quivering display of strength.

A toddler chain at a kindergarten in the early 1940s.
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A toddler chain at a kindergarten in the early 1940s.

Tamara Khanum, an Uzbek dancer of Armenian origin who was famous for being the first Uzbek woman to perform without an Islamic veil.
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Tamara Khanum, an Uzbek dancer of Armenian origin who was famous for being the first Uzbek woman to perform without an Islamic veil.

A young Pioneer trumpets the march of youngsters along a riverbank.
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A young Pioneer trumpets the march of youngsters along a riverbank.

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