Holodomor
James Abbe Collection
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  • Groups: James Abbe Collection
  • Crowd of people waiting for a food distribution center to open at the Dnipro Hydroelectric Dam construction site
        Caption on photo: [no caption.] Caption in I Photograph Russia: "FORBIDDEN. Photographing any queue is taboo, especially a food queue. At his risk and peril, the writer caught this view of a line forming he dare not tell how long before the stores opened."
      Caption on photo: [no caption.] Caption in I Photograph Russia: "FORBIDDEN. Photographing ...
  • Crowds of rural residents near the Kharkiv railway station waiting for a chance to take a train
        Caption on back of photo: “FORBIDDEN. Kharkov. Peasants waiting for a train. Abbe arrested for this.” Caption in I Photograph Russia: "FORBIDDEN. I was arrested for taking this railway scene. Starved peasants wait weeklong for trains to some objective they vainly imagine is the Promised Land where they may find ...
      Caption on back of photo: “FORBIDDEN. Kharkov. Peasants waiting for a train. ...
  • Crowds of rural residents near the Kharkiv railway station waiting for a chance to take a train. Photo stamped "Forbidden."
        Caption on back of photo: "Peasants in Kharkov waiting for a train. Abbe was arrested for taking this 'forbidden' picture." Caption in I Photograph Russia: "FORBIDDEN. I was arrested for taking this railway scene. Starved peasants wait weeklong for trains to some objective they vainly imagine is the Promised Land ...
      Caption on back of photo: "Peasants in Kharkov waiting for a train. ...
  • A handful of youngsters stand near their homes built for workers at the Dnipro Hydroelectric Dam
        Caption on photo: [no caption.] Caption in I Photograph Russia: "Be it ever so humble...This picture shows the homes of the workers on the Dnieperstroy dam and, his back turned, the child of one of them."
      Caption on photo: [no caption.] Caption in I Photograph Russia: "Be it ...
  • Several men and women pose around a dinner table laden with food and drinks
        Caption on back of photo: “Russia coal-region hospitality for foreigners. Donetz Basin (in famine belt)” Caption in I Photograph Russia: "While the peasant starves, our distinguished foreign visitor fares very nicely...especially if he signs an affidavit stating that he has seen no famine in the Don Basin."
      Caption on back of photo: “Russia coal-region hospitality for foreigners. Donetz Basin ...
  • James Abbe and the Holodomor
        James Abbe, an American professional photographer who first gained considerable fame immortalizing celebrities of the early cinema of the 1920s, started shifting his focus to a broader range of publication preferred version photo journalism by the late 1920s. He covered the Mexican Civil War, gangsters in Chicago, and numerous stories ...
      James Abbe, an American professional photographer who first gained considerable fame immortalizing ...
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James Abbe Collection



A Note on the Collection

James Abbe, an American professional photographer who first gained considerable fame immortalizing celebrities of the early cinema of the 1920s, started shifting his focus to a broader range of publication preferred version photo journalism by the late 1920s. He covered the Mexican Civil War, gangsters in Chicago, and numerous stories from Moscow during his first trip to the USSR in 1927. In 1932, he returned to Moscow with his family in order to score a first photo portrait by a Westerner of Stalin in the Kremlin. This achievement earned him greater access to a variety of opportunities to mingle with the communist elites, to observe the shocking realities of life among “peasants” and the proletariat, and to experience firsthand the lengths to which the regime went to control the public image of the Soviet Union. His persistent efforts to photograph scenes from a long list of forbidden subjects led to multiple arrests, however, and he was finally asked to leave, having spent seven months in the USSR. Employing a variety of clever tactics, Abbe succeeded in returning to the US with most of his hundreds of photo negatives.


The small collection presented here consists of 4 photographs, (one photo is also represented with “forbidden” stamped across it for editorial emphasis), and are reproduced from original prints courtesy of the James Abbe Archive https://www.jamesabbe.com/ . All were taken in 1932 and are included among the 80 photographs, mostly from Russia, that illustrate his fascinating 1934 memoir of his Soviet experience, I Photograph Russia. Additional photographs exist from Abbe’s visits to Ukraine in 1932, but most do not relate directly to Holodomor conditions.


In the closing pages of I Photograph Russia, Abbe admitted that there were many photographs that circumstances made it simply impossible for him to capture, images “exposed…on my brain.” For example: “ A herd of Ukrainian peasants being driven to the GPU stockyards: a winding dusty road leads to a local jail from which these resigned looking bearded men who wouldn’t ‘build Socialism’ are to be shipped off on the train, too far away from their native section ever to attempt to return….” Or another instance: “The main street of this little Ukrainian village, some eight miles from the gorgeous Dnieperstroy Dam. A crumpled figure lying on the curb resting – in eternity. He was too hungry.” [1]



[1] Abbe, I Photograph Russia, 322-323.


Source Cited:
Abbe, James. I Photograph Russia. New York: R. M. McBride, 1934.