March 13, 1997

William Brumfield to Speak on "Lost Russia: Photographing the Ruins of Russian Architecture"

Professor of Slavic Studies at Tulane University William Brumfield will talk at Middlebury College on "Lost Russia: Photographing the Ruins of Russian Architecture" on Monday, March 24, at 7:30 p.m. in 304 Johnson on campus.

Professor Brumfield has spent two decades traveling in Russia to photograph many of the neglected buildings, especially wooden churches. Many of these magnificent churches sit outside the bustling industrial cities of modern-day Russia, large ones and small ones, churches that no longer collect much notice from locals, or tourists for that matter. These abandoned edifices, majestic in their heyday, now bear silent witness to the neglect and abuse they have suffered throughout a century of turmoil, war and cultural obliteration. Professor Brumfield has taken on the task of preserving, at least on paper, this magnificent architectural heritage.

Brumfield became fascinated with Russian architecture, particularly church buildings, while traveling extensively in the country in the 1970s and '80s as a graduate student and research scholar. He was struck by the lack of Western scholarship of Russian architecture, although his extensive study of Russian history and literature in graduate school had given him a sense of cultural heritage that helped direct his knowledge of what should be photographed. Sadly, many of the architectural masterpieces he sought were damaged during World War II, targeted by the Communist regime, or just left alone for time to take its toll. "The photographer can only work with what time has left and, over the past quarter of a century, I have recorded much of the remaining legacy of Russian architecture," Professor Brumfield said.

A new world was opened in the early 1990s when the Communist government collapsed and Brumfield was granted open access to the Russian countryside. "I was able to witness a landscape that had for me acquired the aura and remoteness of legend," Brumfield said. "The silence of the Russian countryside creates a still moment in which the photographer can capture the nobility and pathos of an abandoned church or estate house. Even on the verge of ruin, they retain their monumentality with striking effect."

Professor Brumfield's lavishly illustrated book, A History of Russian Architecture, received high praise in The New York Times Book Review.

The public is cordially invited to attend the talk.