DIVANOV, Khudaibergen.

Eighteen original photographs of Khiva and its people.

Khiva: c.1920 Stock Code: 113773
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Khiva in transition through the lens of Uzbekistan's first photographer, rare and evocative images

Eloquent and atmospheric sequence of images showing the ancient Silk Road city of Khiva during a period of rapid transition, the work of Khudaibergen Divanov, Uzbekistan's first photographer whose life and fate mirrored his times. Proscribed and executed in Stalin's Great Purge, vintage prints from Divanov's studio are exceptionally scarce.

All of these direct contact salt prints were made no later than 1924, the year when the Khorezm People's Republic became the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. They came from the album of a Soviet officer who served in Turkestan in the 1920s. The first 15 are from Divanov's pre-revolutionary work, architectural and historical sights of the city of Khiva, genre scenes in the bazaar and countryside, popular entertainments, and ethnographical portraiture. The remaining three images (16-18), seemingly unique, document the historical events after 1920, the transition from the Khiva Khanate to the Khorezm People's Republic, and in particular the First All-Khiva Congress of Soviets.

Raised during the "enlightened" reign of Russian vassal khan Muhammad Rahim Bahadur II, Divanov employed newly introduced photographic technology to record the ancient culture of Khiva and its people, but his work is definitively of his country, rather than "about" it. In his portraits the lens never separates, but rather brings the viewer and the subject together face to face: these expressions are not those of frozen "types", but individuals, personalities; the haughty quizzicality of his horseback huntsman, the frank challenge of the wrestlers, and the unreadable enigma in the face of the unveiled woman; with his crowd scenes we are in the thick of it, peering up at the rope-walker, strolling among the massive cart-wheels, exchanging words with the ram handlers, kneeling on the rugs with the people's representatives welcoming the Soviet future of Khiva. Perhaps inevitable that such an evidently sincere and democratic man of his people should be destroyed by totalitarianism; these rare, meticulously taken and printed images are an evocative memorial. Full details are available on request.


Khudaibergen Divanov, (1879-1938) Uzbekistan's first native photographer and film-maker was born in Khiva, the son of Nurmuhammad Divani a court secretary to the Khivan Khan Muhammad Rahim Bahadur II (18471910). The khan's reign from 1864 to his death marked the peak of a regional cultural revival, this despite operating from around 1873 under Russian vassailage. A truly prolific patron of the arts, he underwrote over a hundred translations from Persian into Chagatai Turkic, introduced the first printing press to the region, and was himself the author of elegant ghazals under the pen name of Feruz. His "innovations may have qualified him to be known as the most influential Central Asian 'enlightener' of all" (Allworth, p. 356).

Despite the Islamic proscription of figurative representations, photography was among the technological advances of the period that was permitted to take root and flourish under Muhammad Rahim. Divanov, a cultured and well-educated young man, had the opportunity to take part in a photo-session conducted by a keen amateur William Penner, a teacher at the German Mennonite settlement at Ak Metchet, established by exiles from Russian conscription. Penner, known locally as Panor-buva, "The Lantern Grandpa" because of the bulky camera he carried everywhere with him, was more than happy to impart the mysteries of the art to his enthusiastic admirer, and Divanov was soon producing his own work, typical of the genres of the time, studies of local scenes, "types" and family portraiture.

It is said that at some point Divanov's "hobby" came to the attention of a local imam, but that his father faced down the criticism, and furthermore under the patronage of the khan, whose portrait he had taken, Divanov was employed at the Khivan mint. Following the death of Muhammad Rahim and the accession of his less culturally committed son Isfandiyar, Divanov accompanied a diplomatic mission to St. Petersburg headed by Islam Khodja, the khan's cousin and Grand Vizier. There Divanov continued his photographic studies, being permitted to stay behind for two months, and returning with an array of new equipment, the latest model cameras, a gramophone and a Pathé movie camera. He subsequently made the first Uzbek newsreel featuring Isfandiyar riding in a phaeton, followed by "documentaries" such as "Architectural Monuments of Our Land" (1913), and "The Sites of Turkestan" (1916).

In the early years of the twentieth century fault lines were developing within the Khivan polity. The promise of a more equitable, modernising society sparked by Muhammad Rahim's progressivism was continued by Islam Khodja who added a cotton gin plant, a hospital, a pharmacy, and a secular schools to the facilities in the khanate.These reforms were supported by the members of the Mladkhivintsi, "Young Khiva" movement, and vigourously opposed by the old landholding class in concert with incoming Russian monopolists. In 1913 the vizier was assassinated, and in the years that followed the country was riven by a tug of war between the forces of conservatism and reform, culminating in the fall of the khanate and its replacement with the People's Soviet Republic of Khorezm (PSRK) in 1920. Events recorded in the latest of the images collected here.

Divanov successfully negotiated this period of turbulence and under the new regime was installed as finance minister, banknotes issued in 1922 bearing the imprint of his seal. He also continued his work as a photographer from his film and photo studio based in Tashkhovli, the former summer palace complex of the khan, his style adapting to the changing times. He was attached to the Central Documentary Film Studio as a correspondent, and made numerous visits to Moscow, taking with him his most recent films, from which excerpts were included in the influential Soyuzkino Journal newsreels.

Divanov was respected in his community, reported by those that knew him to be dignified, courteous and handsome, fluent in several languages including Arabic, skilled in traditional Uzbek music, and a keen gardener nurturing more than 40 varieties of roses in the garden of his home. Following his retirement, he organized a photo study group for the students of national vocational school. Then, during Stalin's Great Purge Devanov's past as a member of the Mladokhivintsi dissident group, caught up with him, he was denounced as an "enemy of the Nation" and executed in a Yangiyul prison camp on the 4 October 1938 aged 60.

Following his rehabilitation twenty years later, a museum was established in his home in the Dishan-Kala district of Khiva, and a cinema named for him. Most of his extensive archive was destroyed following his arrest; however his old Pathé camera, some glass plate negatives and the few personal documents salvaged are now housed at the house museum, and a number of his films can be found in the at TsGAKFFD - Central State Archive of Documentary Films, Photographs, and Sound Recordings but very few vintage prints have survived, rendering the present group of considerable significance.


All of these direct contact salt prints were made no later than 1924, the year when the Khorezm People's Republic became the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. They came from the album of a Soviet officer who served in Turkestan in the 1920s. The first 15 are from Divanov's pre-revolutionary work, architectural and historical sights of the city of Khiva, genre scenes in the bazaar and countryside, popular entertainments, and ethnographical portraiture. The remaining three images (16-18), seemingly unique, document the historical events after 1920, the transition from the Khiva Khanate to the Khorezm People's Republic, and in particular the First All-Khiva Congress of Soviets.

The titles are given from translations of inscriptions pencilled on the back of most of the prints, it has been suggested that these were made by Divanov himself, due to the unusual Russian orthography which hints at phonetic transcription from Central Asian pronunciation. The inked Arabic captioning is almost certainly the photographer's.

1/ No caption The Gate of Khiva (134 x 117 mm). Khivan men seated before the gates. Two small blemishes from the negative at the top edge.

2/ View of Khiva 1st Fortress (85 x 165 mm). Rooftop view across the city. Slight fade at the right-hand margin.

3/ The Main Prayer Mosque in Khiva (141 x 115 mm). View of the minaret of the Juma Mosque "The Friday Mosque" - from the surrounding streets, Islam Khodja minaret (1910) in the background. Mild marginal paste-action discolouration in the pale areas.

4/ Cemetery of the Holy Uzbek in the centre of Khiva, Kalvon-Ata (108 x 162 mm). Mosque of the Pahlavan Mahmud from behind looking towards the Islam Khodja minaret and complex. Captioning in Uzbek recto specifically identifying the Islam Khodja minaret and mausoleum. Some skinning verso, small piece lacking from the right-hand margin accompanied by some creasing, mild paste-action discolouration to the margins.

5/ A well called Khivan (existed) before the construction of Khiva on (this) spot (113 x 110 mm). Acccording to folk legends the city of Khiva was built around a well that was dug with the help of Noah's son Shem. Preserved to this day, it can be seen in the Itcha-Kala, the inner walled part of the city. Caption in Uzbek in the negative. A few small blemishes.

6/ Khivans hunt with the help of hawks and greyhounds (118 x 166 mm). Khivan noble on horseback, with two hawks on his hand, dog sitting, and retainer laying at his feet. Uzbek caption inked over previous in the negative. A couple of minor scuff to the surface, small chip from the lower left-hand corner consequent on mild skinning.

7/ Wrestlers (123 x 109 mm). Two practitioners of kurash, belt-wrestling, one of the most popular national sports of Uzbekistan. Mild marginal discolouration.

8/ Uzbek women one closed, one open (156 x 102 mm). Interior with two women, one standing in the all encompassing paranja with chachvan, horsehair veil, the other seated in a spectacular silk quilted robe, face uncovered. Veils were banned under the Soviets.

9/ Circus acrobat in Khiva, 15 sazhen fathoms high c.30m (116 x 167 mm). Dorbozlik, rope-walking, artist ascends, balance stave in hand, on a show ground outside the walls of the city. Uzbek caption recto, inked over previous in negative, refers in part to Navruz, the Uzbek New Year celebrations, ram fights - see below - are also popular part of the festivities. Small chip from the right-hand edge with associate dog-ear crease, similar crease to lower left-hand corner.

10/ Novy Urgench (113 x 146 mm). Huge gathering of Uzbek arba or bullock carts outside the city of Urgench, about 35 km from Khiva, capital of the Khorezm region, and a major trade centre of the Khivan khanate.

11/ ?Chigir (s) pumping out water for crops (108 x 158 mm). Horse-driven waterwheel with ceramic pots pumping into an irrigation ditch. Slight creasing at the corners, mild discolouration at the margins.

12/ Cogs (?) On the Shavat River in ?Tashauz (113 x 157 mm). Small merchant's boats moored by the tow-path on the Shavat Canal which runs east/west through the city of Urgench. Mild marginal discolouration.

13/ Uzbek women make cotton threads (122 x 85 mm). Two women squatting by a wall with spinning wheel and distaff. Mild marginal discolouration.

14/ Ram fights in Khiva (103 x 166 mm). Rams staked in the arena, crowds overlooking in anticipation.

15/ Grains of the Dzhugara plant in Khiva (117 x 160 mm). Peasant holding a flowering head of sorghum in front of a field of head-high plants. Mild marginal discolouration and a light damp mottling in the image.

16/ 1st meeting... during the Khiva Khan for power (168 x 106 mm). Most likely First All-Khorezm Kurultai Assembly of People's Representatives, 30 April 1920, which proclaimed the end of the Khivan Khanate and the formation of the Khorezm People's Soviet Republic. Representatives seated on rugs inside a roofed outdoor structure, a couple of Russian soldiers present in the background. Inked caption in Uzbek recto. Very good.

17/ Gate with assembled officials (110 x 168 mm). Banner in Russian over the left-hand gate reads: "National demarcation will help us to organize the multi-million masses of the oppressed East to fight world imperialism. Yes to National Demarcation!" Banner in Arabic over right-hand gate, inked Uzbek caption beneath.

18/ Kunha-Ark, the palace of the penultimate Khiva khan, currently a military school (101 x 134 mm) Gateway to the citadel, painted above the gate in Russian; "Revolutionary Military Council, Military Nazirat leader", and above in Arabic. Uzbek ink inscription recto.

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18 original salt prints in various small, "quarter plate" formats, c.100 x 120 mm to 130 x 180 mm, full descriptive listing in the note below. Housed in custom black morocco-backed drop-back box with chemise by the Chelsea Bindery.


Some minor nicks and chips at edges, paste residue verso remaining from removal from an album, negligible surface skinning the pencil captions untouched, but overall very good, crisp images with excellent colour and contrast.


Edward A. Allworth, Central Asia, 130 Years of Russian Dominance: A Historical Overview, Duke University Press, 1994.


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