Latvijas Izpostīto Apgabalu Kongresa Padomes izdevums uzņemts u. izdots 1921 g.Council of Latvia's Devastated Regions' Congress Photo Album, 1921

Cover

Much has been written about the ravages of WWI and Latvia's subsequent War of Independence (Brīvības Cīņas) fought against both the Germans and Bolsheviks. The photo album Latvijas Izpostīto Apgabalu Kongresa Padomes izdevums uzņemts u. izdots 1921 g. provides a stark reminder that Latvia lay in ruin at the conclusion of its fight for independence—suffering the most of any of the Baltic states. At the conclusion of WWI on Germany's western front in 1918, the year Latvia declared independence, there were already wide swaths of destruction across Latvia where every building had been burned to the ground and people's possessions destroyed. Whatever industry was not destroyed had been evacuated to the Russian interior—never to return.

Notwithstanding the occupation of Latvia by German forces, Latvia's War of Independence commenced with the invasion of the Red Army on December 1, 1918 and ended August 11, 1920 with the signing of the Treaty of Rīga between Latvia and Bolshevik Russia.[1] As the album title indicates: "A publication of the Council of the Congress of Latvia's Devastated Regions photographed and issued 1921", these pictures were taken and printed the year after. Two different albums were printed, as documented by holdings in the U.S. Library of Congress:

  • a smaller format album, presented here, contains 16 photographs;
  • a larger format album contains 48 photographs;
  • both feature (contact) prints 8½ x 13½[2] cm. in size.

Unfortunately, the Library of Congress web site sheds little further light on the albums or their origin. We first came upon them listed as relating to the Third Reich Collection (Library of Congress) DLC, having been "presumably confiscated in Germany by U.S. military intelligence authorities, 1945-1946."[3] Our inquiry to the LOC inquiring why the albums would be incorrectly associated with Nazi Germany revealed that the LOC came into their possession as part of materials seized by the Allies in Germany after WWII. We would speculate they were likely carried by a Latvian Legionnaire[4] as a reminder of WWI, when Latvians drove both German and Russian invaders from their homeland; that the albums subsequently somehow wound up in Nazi hands and were then confiscated after the war. The Legionnaires carried Latvian flags folded under their uniforms in hope for the day Latvia would be free of both invaders—the smaller album could have been similarly and easily tucked away in one's uniform, the larger, in their rucksack.

Latvijas Izpostito Apgabalu Kongresa Padome operated from June 1, 1921 to September 4, 1934,[5] most active during the 1920's, and had under it several divisions, chief among them, child welfare. In January, 1922, together with international child welfare and Swedish “Rädda Barnen” organizations it purchased a large shipment of children's clothes which were distributed throughout Latvia. The Congress also provided aid to farmers seeking to re-establish their farms. When its own financial resources dwindled in 1927-1928, it coordinated foreign aid for child welfare. Assistance was directed where most needed, particularly Latgale,[6] which had suffered the most, having also been partly in the path of the Polish-Bolshevik war.

There appears to be very little available on the Congress on the web—mostly accounts of annual convocations of congresses, such as the one at right, reported in the March 15, 1925 issue of Latvijas Kareivis[7]:

"The 5th Congress of Latvia's Devastated Regions convened yesterday the city of Rīga's #2 High School. The Congress was opened by the president of the Devasted Regions Council Gailītis. In his opening speech, the president shed light on the condition in which Latvia finds itself. Much has been accomplished, but the wounds inflicted by war are not so quickly healed. Gailītis concluded his speech with "Dievs, svētī Latviju".[8] Elected to the leadership of the Congress were Gailītis, Upmanis, Vītolis, Bariss, and former prime minister K. Ulmanis. Attending the opening of the Congress also were prime minister Celmiņš, agricultural minister Gailītis, land bank president N. Dzelzītis, and others. There were letters of salutation to the Congress from many organizations.

"After that, prime minister Celmiņš greeted the Congress: for 10 years, all productive work in Latvia had ceased; and now for 6 years already we have been working at renewing our devastated farms. Let us salute the phenomenon of those who have been devasted who—lacking all assistance—are still striving to renew their farms. Our government will reach out to them.

"At the conclusion of greetings there followed a review of the activities of 1924 by the Devastated Regions Congress Council. News from various regions was related after adoption of the review."

While we still have many unanswered questions about the albums, the photographer is less of a mystery. As we read in Baiba Vanaga's The image of artists in 20th century Latvian photography of the 1920's and 1930's (our translation):[9]

Mārtiņš Lapiņš (1873–1954), a self-taught photographer, opened his photography works in Rīga at No. 16. Pērnava street in 1906. In the 1920's and 1930's his photo studio was located at No. 2. Marijas street. After the Second World War, M. Lapiņš was employed at "Rīga's Photo."

Mārtiņš Lapiņš particpated in the founding of the LFB (Latvian Photographers' Society), was an active member, presented lectures at photography courses organized by the society, and participated in various exhibitions, both at home and abroad, achieving recognition for his work. M. Lapiņš "can be seen as the first photographer of theatrical life in Latvia"[10] and he was "one of the few who at the start of the 1920's organized photographing a chronicle of film."[11]

His primary sphere of photographical work was reportage of various events, landscapes, genres and portraits which mostrly portrayed actors, authors, musicians, and other cultural personalities.

M. Lapiņš most often photographed artists in a ¾ turn showing shoulders and upper torso, for the most part with their gaze to the side—into the distance. Models are seen in normal street clothes without superfluous accessories; usually with a conventional backdrop.

M. Lapiņš characerstic composition of formal portraits shows the model leaning sideways off the central vertical axis. Lighting is direct and most often falls from the side, illuminating the facial portrait in full. His photoraphical portraits are clear and crisp, detailed, and with precise countours.

M. Lapiņš photo-portraits have the photographer's mark embossed on one of the lower corners, also showing the photo studio's address, although sometimes the person's name is also written on the photograph as well.

We will continue to search for additional information on the albums and their intended audience. Their purpose, however, is clear: to document the ravages of war upon Latvia—Lapiņš' stark imagery delivers that message with a clarity undimmed by time.

We have restored the photographs to the best of our ability. Look also for the pre-war picture we've included from one of our other albums, of the «Hotel Segewold», before the ruins of war.

Click on a thumbnail to view the picture. Mouse over the either side of the picture and click to navigate or use the left/right arrow keys.

Kalpu mājas, Stopiņu pagasts (Servants' house, Stopiņš parsish)

Ikšķiles pils (Ikšķile castle)

Alažu fabrika (Factory in Alaži)

Jaunzemu mājas, Salaspils pagastā (Jaunzems house, Salaspils parish)

Jaunzemu mājas, Salaspils pagastā (Jaunzems house, Salaspils parish) Detail

Ikšķiles baznīca (Ikšķile church)

Kurtu Muiža (Kurts manor)

Nāves sala, Līves muiža (Nāve “Death’s” island, Līve manor)

Jaunzemu mājas, Salaspils pagasts (Jaunzems house, Salaspils district)

Jaunzemu saimnieks (Jaunzems farmer)

Alažu muiža (Alaži manor)

Olaine, Rolbuš krogs
(Olaine, Rolbuš public house)

Ikšķiles baznīca (Ikšķile church)

Kalnciema. Blindāža. (Kalnciems. Live-in bunker.)

Trampedacha ķīmiskā fabrika (Chemical factory, Trampedach is a Danish family name)

Sigulda viesnīca (Sigulda hotel, «Hotel Segewold»)

The «Hotel Segewold» in better times before the ruins of war, from C. Schulz's Livländische Schweiz, circa 1880 (detail)

The «Hotel Segewold», circa 1880 (full view)

Apdzīvotas tranšejas. Ķekava. (Inhabited entrenchments. Ķekava.)

[1]Estonia concluded its peace treaty with the Bolsheviks on February 2, 1920. Lithuania concluded its peace treaty with the Bolsheviks on July 12, 1920.
[2]The Library of Congress web site indicates a slightly larger size (9 x 14 cm.) than our measurements.
[3]Latvijas izpostitie apgabali, at the Library of Congress web site, retrieved August 4, 2011
[4]The Latvian Legionnaires, also known as Waffen SS units, were illegally conscripted by Nazi Germany to fight against the USSR on the Eatern front.
[5]Biographical information on individuals and organizations, retrieved August 6, 2011 at www.bigraphien.lv
[6]Anita Trušele, Bērnu sociālās problēmas un sociālās palīdzības veidošanās Latgalē 20. gs. 20. gados, at www.arhivi.lv, retrieved August 4, 2011
[7]March 15, 1925 issue of Latvijas Kareivis, retrieved August 5, 2011 at www.periodika.lv
[8]"God bless Latvia," also the title of the Latvian national anthem.
[9]Mākslinieka tēls 20. gs. 20.–30. gadu latviešu fotogrāfijā: Tipoloģiskais aspekts, Latvian Archive, retrieved August 5, 2011
[10]Korsaks, P. Redzamākie 20.gadsimta sâkuma latviešu fotogrāfi. Book: Zeile, P. (editor) Latvijas fotomāksla. Vēsture un mūsdienas. Rīga: Liesma, 1985. p. 72 (reference in original source)
[11]ibid. (reference in original source)
...Timeline...Livländische SchweizLivländische Schweiz (The Livonian Switzerland), C. Schulz, ca. 1880. A scenic Latvian photo album (20 pictures) of the Gauja river valley surrounding Sigulda. Baltic RussiaBaltic Russia, Henry Lansdell. Harper's New Monthly Magazine, New York. July 1890. Lansdell's richly illustrated travelogue, one of a number which appeared in Harper's from 1887 to 1891, offers a Baltic Russian potpourri of information, from educational expenditures by ethnicity to observations on segregated nude bathing. National Encyclopedia "Riga""RIGA", The National Encyclopaedia, ca. 1897. The article entry for Rīga, accompanied with and engraved illustration of a harbor scene. Album "Riga—Рига"Album "Riga—Рига" ca. 1910.Large-format photo album (3 dozen pictures) of Riga at the start of the 20th century. Latvia — Lettish LifeLatvia—Lettish Life in Legendary & Modern Times, Florence Farmborough. ca. 1920. Farmborough's vivid and copiously illustrated account of the newly independent Latvia: the challenges of recovering from the devastation of war, an intimate look into daily life, and hope expressed for the future. From J. A. Hammerton's encyclopedia, Peoples of All Nations: Their Life Today and Story of Their Past. Devastated Latvia, 1921Latvijas Izpostīto Apgabalu Kongresa Padomes izdevums uzņemts u. izdots 1921 g. (Devastated Latvia, 1921.) Photo album issued by the Latvia's Devastated Regions Congress Council in 1921 documenting the destruction left in the wake of WWI and Latvia's War of Independence. Jānis Čakste In MemoriumJānis Čakste Memorial Album, 1927.Photo album dedicated to Latvia's first President upon his death in office. The Four New Baltic States"Estonia", "Finland", "Lithuania", "Latvia." The New Human Interest Library. Vol. V. Midland Press, Chicago. 1928. Articles about the four new Baltic states, a decade after independence. Illustrations and photographs. Latvian Butter ExportsLettische Butter, National Butter Export Control of Latvia, 1929. Between the wars, Germany grew to become the largest customer for Latvia's prized butter exports. By 1928, the year prior to publication, Latvia was the 10th largest butter exporter in the world with 85% of its butter export going to Germany. Benenson's "Russia Today"Russia Today The Ottawa Citizen, 1931. Canadian émigré A. Benenson expresses alarm over Polish armaments and sorrow over Latvia's post-WWI de-industrialization in a letter to the editior from his new homeland. Freedom MonumentBrīvības Piemineklis (Freedom Monument), Jānis Siliņš. Brīvības Pieminekļa Komiteja, 1935. Art critic Jānis Siliņš' detailed discussion of the Freedom Monument, published by the Freedom Monument Committee.
Mārtiņš Lapiņš' works are under copyright until January 1, 2025. Latvijas Izpostīto Apgabalu Kongresa Padomes izdevums uzņemts u. izdots 1921 g. is reproduced here as a Non-Protected work of reportage under Latvian Copyright Law §6. ¶4. Our reproduction for informational, educational, and research purposes additionally qualifies under §20. and §21.

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