Alfred Fedetsky

Alfred Fedetsky – a photographer and a pioneer of cinematograph in the Russian Empire

Alfred-Lucian Fedetsky is the first cinematographer of the Russian Empire, one of the most famous local photographers of the late 19th – early 20th centuries. He was born in 1857 in Zhytomyr in the Polish theatrical family. After graduating from the Imperial Photographic Institute at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Alfred Fedetsky moved to Kyiv in 1880, and six years later, at the beginning of the summer of 1886, he moved to Kharkiv. In Kyiv his teacher and spiritual mentor was the famous photographer Wlodzimierz Vysotsky, who had the title of photographer of the Court of Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Alexandra Petrovna.

Figure 1. The only remained photo of Alfred Fedetsky himself


Having a strong desire to open his own business, Fedetsky moved with his wife and 6-month-old daughter to the photographic capital of the South of the Russian Empire. On the 22nd of June 1886 there was an advertisement, published in the newspaper Kharkovskiye Gubernskiye Vedomosti (Kharkiv Provincial Journal), stating the opening of a new photographic studio on Katerinoslavska Street 6 (nowadays Poltavskiy Shlyakh (Poltava Road))(49.9885991,36.2250860): “Fedetsky A.K. – photographer of the Court of Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Alexandra Petrovna. Beforehand – the studio of photographer Dosekin. We will start working on the first of August. Photographic equipment came from Vienna and London “.

One year later, the name of Alfred Fedetsky appeared in a local newspaper again, that time in connection with unpleasant news – an apartment, rented by the  Fedetskys on Katerinoslavska Street, was robbed by a manservant. Considering the essence of the message in the newspaper, one can conclude that the business of the maestro was going well during that period, for Fedetsky could afford an apartment in the center of the city and to have domestic servants.

In the early works of Fedetsky one can see an interesting detail: on portrait photographs he toned ladies’ lips lightly. This detail added to an image volume and depth. Besides portraiture Fedetsky created genre photocompositions and photos of landscapes.

That period was a kind of a basis in the creative work of Alfred Fedetsky. In September 1888 the master met his true fame: he won a gold medal (L’union fait la force / Unity makes strength) at the World Exhibition in Brussels. In November of that year he was honored with the Highest Gratitude by Emperor Alexander III for the photo reportage from the scene of the imperial train accident near the railway-station Borki (Kharkiv Province).

Certainly, right after these events, Alfred Fedetsky was invited to virtually all city events; he was making photos of artists, composers, actors – in fact, all the famous people who visited Kharkiv. In 1890 the master made a photo of Father John of Kronstadt, who was highly revered in the Russian Empire in those days.

In 1891, at the International Photo Exhibition in London, Alfred Fedetsky won a gold medal and prize money, which he spent on two motion picture cameras. In order to participate in the exhibition he prepared an album of architecture of the monasteries of Russia.

Due to the recognition and glory of the artist outside the Russian Empire, the expansion of the Fedetsky’s photographic studio in Kharkiv was not long in coming. A list of technical personnel included more than ten people, whereas in other photographic studios there were not more than 2-3 assistants.

Considering the rapid development of business, Fedetsky decided to rent more spacious lodging for his photographic studio. On the 1st of August he moved to the General Iznoskov’s mansion on Katerinoslavska Street 18. (Nowadays – Poltavskiy Shlyakh 18. Here is housed the Theater for Young Audiences)(49.9882489,36.2224399).

1892-1893 years were a silent period in the master’s career. This can be explained by the fact that on the 22nd of February 1892 the tragic news stunned Kharkiv – the wife of the photographer Jadwiga Fedetska died. Alfred left with three small daughters. And only in 1893 an event occurred that could return him to public life. The favorite composer of Fedetsky – Pyotr Tchaikovsky – came to Kharkiv.

It should be said that Alfred was a passionate admirer of music. In his studio he often arranged improvised concerts, in which participated many talented musicians of Kharkiv.

On the 29th of December 1895, the newspaper Yuzhny Kray (Southern Region) stated a fire accident in the apartment of Fedetsky. Luckily, the photographic studio left safe and sound.

In 1896 Fedetsky became an enthusiast of experiments with X-ray photography, sound recording and cinematography. Soon in the Kharkiv press a notice was published that a well-known photo master brought from abroad a motion picture camera, which can take 120 cinema shots per second. Already on the 30th of   September an event happened that brought glory to Alfred Fedetsky – from the windows of his house he caught on a camera an annual sacred procession of the orthodox believers, who carried the miracle-working Ozeryanskaya Icon of the Mother of God from the Kuriazhsky monastery to the Sviato-Pokrovsky monastery in Kharkiv. The footage lasted 1,5 minutes and entered the history as the first documentary film shot in the Russian Empire.

After the first film there came others – “Fancy riding of Cossacks of the First Orenburgsky Cossacks Regiment “, “View of the Kharkiv station at the moment of departure of train with officials that stand on the platform” and others.

On the 2nd of December 1896 the first public cinema performance in Ukraine took place in the Opera House (nowadays the Kharkiv Philharmonic Hall on Rymarska Street 21) (49.9979154,36.2304600). Here on the screen with never-before-seen size were shown two life-sized films by Alfred Fedetsky’s – “Solemn Transfer of the miracle-working Ozeryanskaya Icon of the Mother of God from the Kuriazhsky monastery to the Sviato-Pokrovsky monastery in Kharkiv” and “Fancy riding of Cossacks of the First Orenburgsky Cossacks Regiment”. On the 17th of May 2010 a memorial plaque to the photographer and cinematographer Alfred Fedetsky was opened on the building of Kharkiv Philharmonic Hall within the context of the film festival “Kharkiv Lilac”.

Certainly, Kharkiv residents saw the cinema before Fedetsky, but it was French. Alfred Fedetsky became the first director, cinematographic operator and technician who shot cinema in the Russian Empire. It was a Kharkiv film and about Kharkiv.

In 1897, Alfred Fedetsky gained the exclusive right to produce relief photographs in Kharkiv according to the method developed by the Austrian inventor Z. Bondi. Portraits of relief photography create a complete illusion of a living face, emphasizing its wrinkles, tense muscles etc. The popularity of the photographer artist went upwards. In the beginning of 1898, Fedetsky enjoyed the privilege of making several photos of I.K. Aivazovsky.

In 1897-1898 Alfred Fedetsky bought a house on today’s Sumska Street 3 (49.9938627,36.2320607). The building, after a planned reconstruction, had to satisfy Fedetsky completely: on the first floor it was planned to house an artist’s family (three daughters and his mother), and on the ground floor – to arrange a magnificent photo studio. The decision to move the studio from Katerinoslavska Street to Sumska Street was quite logical – the city developed dynamically, and the business center was steadily changing its position to Sumska Street.

A few years later, when the ground floor was renovated, Fedetsky brought his photo studio there. Unfortunately, Alfred did not manage to complete the renovation of the first floor because of the illness. On this building, in 2013, a memorial plaque was installed in honor of the photographer and cinema-maker.

At the 45th year of life Alfred Fedetsky got problems with the heart. A well-known photographer was not able to come to Berlin for medical treatment – on the 21st of July 1902 he died halfway to his goal, in Minsk. On the 26th of July, Fedetsky was buried in the Cemetery of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist , in a family crypt next to his wife. These days there is a functioning city cemetery №13 (Pushkinska Street 108) (50.0245462, 36.2833351).

He is called “a man behind the scene” After all, despite an outstanding career, only one photograph of the master at work remained, dated 1892.

For several more years Fedetsky’s assistants tried to keep the standards of the photo studio high. However, without the participation of the maestro, the business fell into complete disarray. According to the testament of Alfred Fedetsky, it was supposed to equip a photo studio upon his project. But this last master’s plan was never implemented. The guardian over the property of the descendants decided that it would be more useful to sell the studio. The house, which belonged to the Fedetsky family, regularly changed its owners and underwent many fires after 1917.

Sources of information:

1. Żur М.Charków w losach i życiu Polaków. Alfred Fedecki // Polonia Charkowa. – 2003. – Nr 4.

2. Гинзбург С. Рождение русского документального кино // Вопросы киноискусства. – 1960. – Вып. 4. – С. 244-245, 249.

3. Журов Г. В. Перші кінозйомки і перші демонстрації «синематографа» // З минулого кіно на Україні. – Київ, 1959. – С. 10-12.

4. Миславський В. Альфред Федецький поет фотографії. — Харків, 2010.

5. Миславський В.
Початок польського кіно. Польські творці в кінематографії Росії (1896–1918). Фільмо-біографічний довідник. – Харків, 2013.

6. Можейко И. Ю. Дом с башенкой и его обитатели // Харьков: пульс прошлого : ист. очерки. – Харьков, 2012. – С. 186-189.

7. Харьковские губернские ведомости. – 1886. – 22 червня.

8. Харьковские губернские ведомости. – 1887. – 22 червня.

9. Харьковские губернские ведомости. – 1891. – 3 серпня.

10. Южный край. – 1895. – 29 грудня.

11. Южный край. – 1896. – 27 листопада.

Prepared by Valeria Yarova