At first glance, this looks like a picture of dogs relaxing in the autumn sun, but little do many viewers realize, they are resting less than 15 feet from a building that stores dynamite and other explosives. Although it doesn’t seem to be bothering the dogs. Maybe the dogs are supposed to be guarding the explosives/surrounding area or are merely used for hunting, as the laika breed is commonly known for. Laika comes from the Russian word layat, meaning barker, probably assuming they were good guard dogs, making sense of the “Guard Dog” title of the photo. The Laika breed are also known to be very loyal to their masters, protective of their property, and to bark at strangers.
Now back to the explosives. It is believed that this photo was taken in 1909 in Ekaterinburg, Germany, in the heart of the Ural Mountains. The city was known for mining in the 18th century and milling in the 19th. There were expansive railroads starting with the first in 1878, which linked the plants of the middle Ural mountains to the provincial capital. During the time the photo was taken, a railroad was actually being built with a direct path the St. Petersburg.
It can be assumed that the explosives stored in the back building of the photo were used for mining, railroad building, and other construction within the Ural Mountains. Here is a video of how dynamite is used to build railroads; at they end they camera goes right up to where the blast was to show the aftermath of the explosion, so you can see how effective and necessary it was/is.
Railroad building and expansion are an example of the problems of reform in 19th and 20th century Russia and their relationship with the West. The idea of railroads in Russia was not accepted until 1836, from the Austrian engineer Franz Anton von Gerstner. Rivers were the primary mode of transportation before railroads and while they were fast, many were frozen for months out of the year. Railroads were a necessity for Russia to continue to advance socially and economically, but not all Russian leaders were on board, along with a lot of the Russian public. One of them being Count Kankrin, the Minister of Finance, who felt that this would not benefit the welfare of the people as much as improvements in agricultural would. I’m sure the fact that the West, especially America, was embracing the new railroad technology did not help the situation either.
We see many of these ideas in Freeze’s book, including agriculture beginning to suffer due to reforms and the idea of secret reforms being employed in order to make it seem as though Russia was advancing, while not changing the status quo.
If I’m being honest, which is always am, I chose this pictures because I love dogs. As I was clicking through the gallery, nothing seemed to pop out at me. None of the people, artifacts, or scenic views, until I saw the dogs. It wasn’t until I read the short bio about it that I realized there was a story here. The photographer, Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, was a hunter himself, so it was possible he took this picture because he liked and even used this breed of dog for his hunting or maybe it was more. Maybe he saw the warning signs for the explosives and knew a railroad was being built at that time and took this photo to elude to all that railroad building involved in Russia over the past couple decades and all that it stood for.
It is important to note what was going on in the life of the photographer during the time this photo was taken. In May of 1909, Prokudin-Gorskii met with the Tsar of Russia and was given the necessary equipment and permission to take pictures everywhere with the goal of education. The plan was to show these photos in schools to show children the vastness and richness of the land. The first expedition of this project was up the Mariinsky Waterway, that expanded from the St. Petersburg to the Volga River. A few months later, in the fall, is when he headed up to the Ural Mountains and took this photo. It is interesting, after knowing the history of the canals and railway systems, that it was on this trip that he took this picture which shows off some of the main resources used to build the eventual replacement to the canal system.
Book citation: Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a history. Oxford: Oxford U Press, 1997. Print.