Moisey Solomonovich (Moses) Nappelbaum
Book design is the art of incorporating the content, style, format, design, and sequence of the various components of a book into a coherent whole. In the words of Jan Tschichold, "methods and rules upon which it is impossible to improve, have been developed over centuries. To produce perfect books, these rules have to be brought back to life and applied."
Front matter, or preliminaries, is the first section of a book and is usually the smallest section in terms of the number of pages. Each page is counted, but no folio or page number is expressed or printed, on either display pages or blank pages.
When he was 15 years old, his mother took him out of school and got him a job as an apprentice with a renowned Minsk photographer of Osip Boretti. Originally his function was to copy finished photos, but very soon, he was detailed to help with developing and retouching, skills that he retained for life and used from time to time until the end of his life. His sagacity and sapience impressed the owner, and Nappelbaum was entrusted to photograph clients on his own. But in 1987, Boretti had closed his studio, and Moses Nappelbaum hit the road in Russia searching for a new job in the acquired field. It leads him to various photographers in Smolensk, Moscow, Kozlov, Odesa, Warsaw, Vilna, and Yevpatoria. During this roaming, he gained a lot of new experience and understanding but had not found a place where they would take photos he already was dreaming of. He decided to enlarge the scope of his quest drastically and, in 1980, together with his older brother, emigrated 1890 to the United States. Initially, he attempted to replicate his Russian game plan looking for a job with already established photographers and photo enterprises, first in New York and then in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. He was unhappy with the kind of jobs he managed to find and decided to start working for himself. Together with a companion, he has begun to work as a rent-photographer serving enterprises that chose to take photos for the entire personnel both in groups and individually. In parallel, he took up to make pins of local celebrities for mass distribution, mainly as a supplement to advertising. Later in Soviet Russia, he will capitalize on these newly developed skills.
He earns well and even manages to save, but he cannot see his current preoccupation as a trade he aspired for. Having accumulated sufficient start-up capital, Moses Nappelbaum returned to Minsk in 1895. There, he set up first a photographic pavilion and then a full-fledged photo studio at the street renowned for the best photos in the city. For the first time, he was able to arrange his working environment to his liking. He modeled it as an upscale fine art atelier with elegant furniture and copies of famous painters in the reception hall. At the same time, he started experimenting with photography style, sending (and with success) his artworks to various exhibitions, including those abroad, and trailblazing his understating of a photography place within the scope of fine arts. He became very successful, he earns well, he has a large family (three daughters and a son), he is already over forty. But his creative development was severely curtailed by expectations of his old-line clientele, who is not ready for creative innovations. And once again, he opted for a fresh departure. He managed to save for another start-up, and in 1910 without any prearranged foothold with his six-year-old son in toe, he leaves for Saint Petersburg in search of new achievements.
In St. Petersburg, Moses Nappelbaum starts as usual by looking for employment with an already established photographer. However, now, he is a very experienced professional with a complete portfolio of his works. And in any case, those jobs are seen as temporary as from the very beginning; he knows that sooner or later he will have a studio of his own and that only there he will be able to achieve his aspirations. During these interim years, he is working under several well-known photographers, but for each of them, not for a very long time. Each time an owner insists that Nappelbaum just do as the owner does and is not happy when Nappelbaum does what he sees fit. Only in 1914 Nappelbaum finds what he was looking for - his personal photo in the very center of Petersburg, on Nevskiy Prospekt 72, where he was able to rent the entire 6th floor of a beautiful building. Of the nine rooms there, three (including a 49-sq. meter hall were allocated for his photo studio, and the rest for apartments for his family he now managed to transfer from Minsk.
Once again, Nappelbaum stets up his new studio in an unconventional way, as a much-improved version of his Minsk studio with a posh marble stair leading to stylishly furnished reception and unusually outfitted huge photo hall where Nappelbaum is using his unique approach to subject light exposure. But most importantly, very soon, this photo studio emerged into a significant public function - the place where it was a must to go to get your photo. The ever-growing demand was so high that each summer, Nappelbaum started moving his studio to a pavilion at Royal summer suburbs. As a legend goes, in 1916, he had an opportunity to take photos of two of the Royal Princesses, and Royal Family approved them. There were some discussions about additional photography sessions, but it never materialized, and Nappelbaum very soon had found it reasonable to forget all about it.
A key feature in such a success was perhaps Nappelbaum collaboration with a "Sun of Russia" weekly – as it were "The New Yorker" for the Russian environment for this time. In this weekly, Nappelbaum was regularly publishing photo portraits of prominent personalities of art and culture and his "photo paintings," thus starting a lifelong "love story" with creative strata of the country. Equally important is that in 1916 he started to take and publish multiple photos of leading politicians from every inclination covering the better part of the Second and the Third Duma delegates. He took pictures of Breshko-Breshkovskaya, Spiridonova, Plekhanov, Sazonov, Tsereteli, Kerensky, General Kornilov, and others who played an essential role in the Russian revolution.
Nappelbaum's involvement in pre-revolutionary political photography played a crucial role in his future development. Those photos made Lunacharskiy (responsible for education, science, and art in the first Soviet Government) invite Nappelbaum in 1918 to take a picture of Lenin for mass distribution aimed at familiarizing the Russian population with an image of the Head of the State. Lenin photo portraits were a great success, approved, reproduced in scores, and distributed over the entire country.
In the wake of this accomplishment, Nappelbaum wrote to Sverdlov (as the Chairman of VTsIK (All-Russia Central Executive Committee) – those days equivalent to the post of the President) letter where he suggested that it would be desirable to set up a state-owned photoshop. There, he thought, one will take photos of the state dignitaries' for public dissemination. The idea was found appealing, and Sverdlov detailed Nappelbaum to arrange and manage such a studio and nominated him the VTsIK Photographer (he was the only person in Russian history to hold such a post). Nappelbaum agreed and set up such a shop parallel to his personal studio, where he kept working for himself.
At the end of 1918, Lunacharskiy provided at Nappelbaum disposal Anichkov Royal Palace to hold there his solo exhibition. There were about 250 photos exposed, with only half of them being portraits per se. The rest was his "photo-paintings," staged compositions of a genre nature, and his experiments with nudity, human form, movements, and gestures. A separate section was dedicated to portraits of prominent political figures who were considered already contra-revolutionaries at that time, such as Lavr Kornilov, Kerensky, Tseretely, etc. In the preface to the exhibition catalog, Nappelbaum described as a manifesto his vision of the transformation of photography from a simple means of visual recording to an innovative means for a new chapter in creative visual art.
At the same time, Soviet Government decided to move from St. Petersburg to Moscow, and in 1919 Nappelbaum and his studio were invited to follow suit. He was given premises (both for lodgings and studio) at the First Dormitory of the Komintern (Metropol Hotel before the revolution and became Metropol Hotel much later and remained it to present days). At this studio, he eventually photographed virtually the entire political elite of that time. At the same time, it was arranged that he had an opportunity to return to St Petersburg on nearly a weekly basis to work at his private studio and with private clientele.
At the end of 1920, the primary function of the State photoshop, visual familiarization of population with a new political elite, was completed. At the same time, top inhabitants of the Metropol Dormitory were moving to their lodgings in Kremlin. The State photoshop was scraped, and Nappelbaum went back to St Petersburg to return to Moscow occasionally in response to the governmental summons.
Meanwhile, his older daughters have joined poetry apprenticeship 'Singing Shell" tutored by Nikolay Gumilev and affiliated to akmeism "Poets Workshop." Very soon, Nappelbaum's apartment became the weekly venue of the "Singing Shell" and soon after the weekly gathering of "Silver Century" poets. Those gatherings were attended and (as of by default) eventually photographed by most leading proponents of the Russian cultural life. At the same time, Nappelbaum's Studio remained open to the general public, and every person from the street could go there to ask for his photo taken.
With time this life on two fronts became more and more strenuous, and in 1924 Nappelbaum brought himself to relocate to Moscow ultimately, especially as his clientele was moving to Moscow more and more. The State provided him with a large studio at the Annenkov mansion on the corner of Petrovka and Kuznetsky Most (Petrovka 5) and with a large apartment above it.
Very soon, his new studio became as popular as the previous one, and its unique attraction for the cultural environment of Moscow flourished. His life seemed to reach orderliness and stability. He organizes photography classes to promote his vision of photography aesthetics. In the same year Nappelbaum exhibits a set of his photos at Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes and was awarded there with a Diplôme d'honneur. There is no exact record of what he exhibited there, but from the press, we know that two of the photos from that set, "Shylock" and "Solitude," belong to his "photo paintings" style of his early exhibition
Then out of the blue, a complete disaster. In 1930 Peoples State Inspectorate (probably based on the private ownership of St Petersburg studio) deprives Nappelbaum and his entire family of their civic rights, ordered them to be expelled from Moscow, and barred them from being employed by any Sate-affiliated entity. As another family legend goes, the Nappelbaum fate was sealed through a personal call of Maxim Gorky to Stalin. As by a miracle, the persecution stopped and backtracked. Nappelbaum remained in his home, and with his studio, he kept photographing prominent political figures and his regular clientele.
In 1935 as if in a retarded latent apology to the inconvenience of 1930, the State awarded Nappelbaum with the title of Honorable Artist of Russia (the first and the only occasion for photographers) and arranged his second retrospective exhibition for him. The show was held at the summit of his professional success. He would be expected to show the best photos of nearly half a century of his professional life. There were 400 photos which makes it his most extensive exhibition ever. But was it as comprehensive as we might expect it to be?
In contrast to Nappelbaum first exhibition, this one was not his private one - it was an exhibition organized by the State for him and with him. Therefore, it was for the State authorities to approve or reject the photos he might strive to exhibit. Accordingly, it would be reasonable to presume that the choice did not give full credit to the entire legacy of Nappelbaum artwork by that time. From Nappelbaum's book of memories, "From Trade to Fine Art," one may conclude that there were practically no photos at the second exhibition at the presentation of 1918. But what about the whole gallery of luminaries of the Silver Age, created in the 20th? Were they also considered too out of line with current expectations to merit the place at the exhibition? And what about his photos of Trotsky that only a couple of years before were printed and circulated in numbers comparable to that of Lenin? Or was not this exhibition late enough to allow portraits of Bukharin, Meyerhold, Esenin, and many others to be shown?
The subjunctive form of previous statements is due to a nearly total absence of data on the actual content of this exhibition for which there is no known catalog or detailed description. This obscurity applies in equal measures both to the portraits that were not shown there and to those that were at this exhibition. Presumably, very soon, the better part of its exhibits was confiscated, destroyed, and withdrawn from public exposure along with the subjects of these portraits. The exhibition may be seen as, if not the beginning, then a watermark of a long process of permanent decimation of the Nappelbaum legacy that accompanied him till Nappelbaum death and beyond. This explains to a large extent the absence of a specific date on this exhibition for which even a catalog might be as poisonous as knowledge of the prototypes of the portraits on the list and why there are so few photos in Nappelbaum inheritance dated at 1930th. Many of these portraits may be lost forever, others reappear miraculously, and some come to light without confirmed attribution. Anyhow it is even impossible to assess the scope of actual damage that was done to a real Nappelbaum's artistic heritage.
With the beginning of the Second World War, Moses Nappelbaum and his much-curtailed studio, along with other prominent establishments of art and culture, were evacuated first to Nalchik and later, with an advance of Nazi forces, to Tbilisi and eventually to the city of Tabriz in Iran. There he and his studio kept working and made many portraits of eminent figures of science and art of Georgia and Armenia.
In 1945, Moses Nappelbaum returned from evacuation to Moscow to discover that the Petrovka building where his studio and his apartment was partially destroyed (and then demolished) during the German bombing. In compensation, the Government provided him with two rooms in a huge communal apartment on Bolshaya Dmitrovka 8, where he was permitted to build large racks of rough boards in the common hallway to accommodate the remaining archive, and with premises at Arbat street (Arbat 40) for his new studio. This studio instantly became the center of attraction for the post-war creative intelligentsia of Moscow and the whole country. This new studio once again became the center of attraction for the post-war creative intelligentsia of Moscow and the country in general instantly. He continued to shoot any visitors who would come to this studio for this purpose and spend much time on the contracts of most prestigious cultural establishments such as the Academy of Sciences, Unions of Writers, of Composers, Bolshoi Theater, Art Theater, Malyi Theater, etc. who were interested ln creating a gallery of their leading personalities.
During the same period, Moses Nappelbaum engaged a literary secretary and began to dictate his memories which he often told orally and much more interestingly and vividly to his guests. Later, he asked his daughter, the critic Olga Grudtsova to convert these notes into a book published (unfortunately, it came out of press a few months after his death) under the title "From the Trade to the Fine Art. The Art of Portraiture".
In 1946, Moscow House of Scientists hosted Nappelbaum's yet another, third retrospective exhibition. Two hundred pictures were shown there, and, in his memoirs, he described it as a definitive one underlying the entire span of his artistic development. Meanwhile, this exhibition can hardly be considered a seminal one. Very much in tune with observations made above, it was primarily built around his photos made just before the War and just after its end with only a minimal number of pictures from his first exhibition and even a lesser number of exhibits from the retrospective of 1935. His last lifetime retrospective was held in 1955.
In 1985, the Nappelbaum family finally persuaded their father to stop commuting to work every day to his Arbat photography and to stop working. He began to age rapidly, and on June 13, 1958, he died suddenly in his sleep from cardiac arrest. Two hours later, his daughter Fredericka, a poet and professional photographer who lived with his father almost all his life, died of a hypertensive crisis.
In 1969, the House of Journalists hosted the first posthumous exhibition of Moses Nappelbaum, organized by his son Lev Nappelbaum. In 1970, part of this exhibition was shown in the Moscow House of Writers, which then moved to the Leningrad House of Writers, and the other part to the Leningrad House of Architects. In 2012 in Berlin Berinson Gallery hosted the exhibition "Moses Nappelbaum. Portraits of the Soviet Spiritual Environment». In 2014, the Collection of Works by Nappelbaum, owned by Alex Lachman (Kheln), was shown at the Jewish Museum in Moscow. In 2019, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Nappelbaum, an exhibition of his works from the collection of Alexander Borodulin was organized in Minsk. In the same year, this exhibition was shown in the KGaleree on the Fontanka in St. Petersburg.
Since 1902, he regularly, and with success, exhibited his work at exhibitions of applied art in France and at the International Exhibition of Applied and Decorative Arts in 1925 was among the winners in the section "Photography." It is also worth noting the participation of his works in the exhibitions "Moscow - Paris" in 1981, "Moscow - Berlin" in 1996, and the show "Revolution. Soviet Art 1917 -1932» in London in 2017
In 1958, a book of Memories of Nappelbaum, "From Craft to Fine Art. The Art of Portraiture," was published, which then withstood several reprints. In 1984, the American publishing house Ann Arbor published a collection of his photographs "Moses Nappelbaum. Our century." In 1985, the publishing house "Planeta" published the book "M. Nappelbaum. Selected photos". In 19987, the publishing house "Soviet Artist" publishes the photobook "Moses Nappelbaum. Photography". In 2012, the exhibition catalog was published by Berinson Gallery. In 2014, the exhibition catalog in the Jewish Museum "Moses Nappelbaum. Atelier" was printed. Finally, in 2019, the monograph "The Silver Age. Photos of Moses Nappelbaum» was published
In 2021 in Moscow, "Moses Nappelbaum – Renowned and Unknown" was held with a first scanty attempt to start a full-fledged quest towards the true legacy of Nappelbaum's artwork.