Of Polish origin, Victor Barsokevitsch was born in Helsinki in 1863 and died there seventy years later in 1933. It is for the forty years which he spent in the provincial capital of Kuopio that his reputation as one of the pioneers of Finnish photography and photographic art rests.
Photographer's window into the past
Victor Barsokevitsch recorded the full panorama of provincial life from peasants to pastors, beggars to brigadiers, the newly born to the recently departed, all during a period when Finland underwent its metamorphosis from Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire via civil strife to Independent Republic. Barsokevitsch's enthusiasm gained him access to hospitals and prisons, ladies' boudoirs and governors' kitchens.
Baltic blood roots into
Finnish soil Victor Barsokevitsch travelled to Kuopio in early years of 1880's to become first a clerk for a practising photographer Miss Adéle Sallin and then her husband. The family's new studio carrying Barsokevitsch's name was opened in 1887 on the Kuninkaankatu street, the area that was the very heart of Kuopio's cultural and intellectual life. First a competent amateur, Barsokevitsch soon grew to perceive the artistic potential of photography. Barsokevitsch's atelier burned down twice, first in 1893 and again in 1916. In 1916 he was also expelled from the country to Saratov by Volga River for political doubts of resisting the Czar. He was released by the March Revolution in 1917 and returned to Finland, where he continued his work in Kuopio until 1927.
The largest of its kind in Finland, the Barsokevitsch Collection of Negatives in the Kuopio Museum contains 70,000 glass plates from 1893-1927. It is accompanied by an almost unbroken record of the subjects photographed, and thus makes the collection a unique subject of ethnological, cultural and photographic research.
Traits of Barso's photography
Barsokevitsch's studio output allows us to trace the two traditions in portrait photography. The most artistic ones are the studies which portray the personalities of Kuopio's leading officials, officers and journalists as well as those of local chimney-sweeps, policemen, firemen, peddlers, vagabonds and eccentrics which he invited to sit for him. In these portraits he used few props, only something to indicate his model’s profession, trade or hobby. The second successful group are milieu studies in which furnishing, backcloths, and other props aimed at revealing the social status or estate. Atelier rituals, the third major group of portraits, emphasize photography as a social event. The most successful group studies are based on an inner tension, spiritual or physical contact.
The atelier combined the theatre of reality and imagination. With their domestic pets and home athletes, these photos are warmly humorous to modern spectators. Up to the early 20th century, wealthier clients were photographed against a backdrop which pictured classical pillared rooms. For ordinary people, however, a backcloth of forest path sufficed. But for everybody, the world of 'Old-Man-Barso's' atelier was illusory, filled with magic of flashing lights, chemicals and black hoods.