“The Kasli Iron Works plant, founded in 1747 and known for its high quality of cast iron products, had a work force of more than 3,000 people”.
According to the World Digital Library: Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii ventured on several trips around the Ural Mountains, visiting Kasli in 1910. Kasli is home to one of the precious resources that was capitalized on for economic benefit, iron ore.
The reforms and counter reforms during the tumultuous era of 1855-1890 shaped the way Kasli is viewed and depicted, culturally and economically, through imagery. The photograph, taken in 1910, reveals a post-reform European flair as a result of “the Great Reforms” (Freeze, 199) which proliferated the“Crimean Syndrome” (Freeze 209) centered on reform. Through reforms such as zemstvos, educational reorganization, judicial statutes, military reorganization and retraining, the addition of city councils, the removal of censorship, and the reform of the Russian Orthodox Church, were all critical in creating the mood emitted from the image above.
My interpretation of the image of Kasli detects a light embrace of Westernization and the continuation of traditional beliefs holding the importance of church paramount. Due to the vantage point of the quasi-aerial shot of the town, the breath taking scenery has a skyline dominated with the patriarchal influence of the Orthodox Church, signifying the continuity of religion throughout a time period of revolution.
This image, enhanced with color, demonstrates the presence of the Church, and how its influence is felt through all aspects of life. The reforms of the church through the “Great Reforms” (Freeze, 199) is not explicitly shown, but implies that there was a deep division over the impact of the church, with three different churches within the scope of the picture. Reforms such as: reconstruction of the clergy hierarchy, the reformation of the civil servants and class structure, the reform of the clergy education system, and administration of clergy courts was all conducted in order to deter corruption (Freeze, 212). Overall, the “Great Reforms” (Freeze, 199) set on the clergy were deemed unsuccessful when analysis was undertook in the 1880’s (Freeze, 220), however, the preservation of tradition is noted.
The importance of the economic implication of this photo cannot be overlooked. A Russian blog, Russia Beyond The Headlines hits on the economic relevance of Kasli: “Initially, the bulk of the orders were for the military, but the Ural plant also produced fine cookware, such as pots, cauldrons and other utensils.”
Notice there is a severe lack of railroads and other transportation routes in the picture, which calls on the senses to experience the human geography and the lack of industrialization and modernization. Freeze states: “Industrialization, which has been so retarded and been discouraged by the pre-reform regime, faced considerable obstacles… [such as] Russia’s low credibility…[and] virtual non-existence of railways meant that key resources (iron ore and coal) and markets could not be linked” (Freeze, 215-216). If there is a lack of connectivity and advancement throughout the country and the international economic framework, there might have been a lack of opportunity to modernize not just economically, but socially as well. Furthermore, signifying that reform and counterculture is not accepted within a traditional society founded in conservatism and no connectivity.
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.