Richard Schofield
April 24,2024

Private & Confidential

Pre-Second World War Lithuanian Jewish Photographs

DestroyedDisplaced │ Re(dis)covered │ Reclaimed


Historically, photographic glass plate negatives have been produced in two different types, wet (collodion) plate negatives from 1851 until the mid-1880s, and thereafter the so-called dry (gelatin) plate negatives, of which a few are still manufactured and used today by people who appreciate the extraordinary and unique image quality that they provide. Available in three sizes, namely quarter-plate, half-plate and full-plate, almost without exception, every single glass plate negative that was used in Jewish and other photography studios in Lithuania before the Second World War was of the half-plate variety, measuring 120mm x 165mm and being much thinner than ordinary window glass [1]. Many photography studios advertised their businesses on the prints that they produced from the negatives, sometimes in extremely elaborate and ostentatious ways, such as the design below, which features among the 113 photographs that were smuggled out of the Kovno Ghetto by Annushka Varšavskienė in October 1943. As well as the various examples of original handwriting that are often found on old photographic prints that were sent or given away as gifts to loved ones, the studio-produced writing can also be extremely useful for research purposes. For example, the Russian words Негативь Хранятся on this particular negative states that the studio, in this case the E. Binkovich photography studio at ul. Vilenskaya 32 in Vilna, stores the negatives that they produce. Not only was this good news for clients, who could order more prints at any time they liked in the future, it also provides further evidence that there were somewhere in the region of three million glass plate negatives stored in Jewish-owned photography studios in Lithuania during the summer of 1941. It's also worth noting that Lithuanian Jewish studio photography studios were, first and foremost, business that were open to everyone with the money to pay, Jewish or otherwise. The fact that many of the subjects that are featured in 'Lithuanian Jewish' glass plate negatives were non-Jewish suggests that there must have been an incentive to save at least some of them.

© The Data Brigade

[1] Having handled the Kaplanskis glass plate negatives myself, I'm only too aware of how delicate these artefacts are, a fact that could lead to the misguided belief that their extreme fragility was their ultimate downfall. As objects for generating money and turning a good profit with the help of reprints however, exposed photographic glass plate negatives were, and continue to be, wrapped in paper and tightly packed together in boxes, making them if not indestructible then at least capable of surviving a war in relatively large quantities.