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'I've grown fat, got a tan & now look like a Siberian'
Vladimir Lenin, 1897, in Siberian exile

Who was the wealthy-looking 'phantom girl' in these 110-year-old Siberian photographs?

By Anna Liesowska
28 January 2016

Serious and immaculate, her haunting image is barely visible on tsarist-era Krasnoyarsk pictures, only spotted now, with new technology.

Perhaps a family album somewhere abroad has matching images of this 'phantom girl' from Krasnoyarsk? Picture: Krasnoyarsk Regional Museum of Local Lore

The best guess is that the mystery girl with the long plait is aged between 8 and 10, and she makes a - usually - 'bit part' appearance on photographs of buildings and sights in this historic city. In all, she appears in some 20 pictures and four glass negatives, which are kept in Krasnoyarsk Regional Museum of Local Lore.

Some were used for postcards of the city: yet over many decades no-one commented on the hardly visible well-dressed girl. So much so that for more than a century, her presence has gone unnoticed in photographs of Krasnoyarsk which were widely distributed as postcards and posters. 

On a few shots, she is more evident, but is never quite the main focus of the photograph.

phantom girl Siberia


phantom girl Siberia


phantom girl Siberia
Who was the wealthy-looking girl? Pictures: Krasnoyarsk Regional Museum of Local Lore


It is only when a random group of pictures, garnered from different sources, is collected together than her constant presence is suddenly so striking.

For example, on one she stands incongruously on a roof top in an image of the famous Krasnoyarsk Railway Bridge, which carries the Trans Siberian railway over the Yenisei River.

When the picture was shot, the bridge, opened in 1899, must have been less than a decade old. She is not the focal point of the picture, yet when you know she is there, she certainly catches the eye. 

In another, she poses with several boys, near Krasnoyarsk teachers' seminary, somehow imperious in her light coloured cape with a darker dress underneath, and her distinctive trademark boater-style hat. 

phantom girl Siberia
Her image is barely visible on tsarist-era pictures, only spotted now, with new technology. Picture: Krasnoyarsk Regional Museum of Local Lore


One more has her fixing her eyes  at the camera - is she scowling? - gently holding her umbrella in her hands, a dark ribbon at the end of her long plait, next to a slightly younger girl, not so well dressed. In these three images, she is clearly present. In others, she is there - but is scarcely visible to the naked eye. 

And this is the reason for her anonymity for so long in photographs taken probably between 1906 and 1908, a decade or so before revolution gripped Russia and the Romanov empire came to a shuddering end. It was eagle-eyed researchers from the Krasnoyarsk Regional Museum of Local Lore who first noticed her when they made a hi-res scanning of the pictures. The same discovery was made by the designers of the company Bad Guys after they asked for pictures of the city from the early years of the 20th century. The company proposed making this story public.  

In photographs of some buildings, she is hardly more than a speck: but she is there. 

At first it was thought she was always in the same outfit. But modern technology tells us there were subtle differences in her clothing: her boots, stockings and dress are not - in fact - the same. Only her unsmiling expression remains constant. 

phantom girl Siberia
The photographs are dated to the beginning of 20th century, some years before revolution gripped Russia. Picture: Krasnoyarsk Regional Museum of Local Lore


The designers from Bad Guys proposed to the museum launching a public search to find out the identity of ghostly girl, and The Siberian Times is delighted to join the hunt.

Ilya Kuklinsky, senior researcher of the museum, said: 'It was only modern equipment that allowed us to notice the girl. When you look at the old pictures, you do not see her.  

'She is rather small there. When we made hi-resolution scans and zoomed in, we saw her more closely, along with the details of her clothes and hairstyle.'

Some believed she was identically dressed in all the images, as if, perhaps, she has posed for them all in one day: but this does not appear to be the case. 

'It is not so,' he said, indicating the photos were taken over a period of time. 

'She changes boots, stockings, and we can see some differences in her dress, but she is always in the same pose and with the same facial expression. She never smiles. The fact that she changes her clothes makes me think that the pictures were taken not in a single day.

'It was over a period of some time. But what was the aim?'

And who was the photographer? Or photographers? Was her presence a signature for a tsarist-era cameraman who for other reasons wanted to stay incognito?

phantom girl


phantom girl
Might it be that the answer to this intriguing question lies in America or Europe? Pictures: Krasnoyarsk Regional Museum of Local Lore


Most of the images are anonymous, but some have the F. E. A. imprint on them. So far it has not been possible to identify a photographer using these initials. 

Some came to the museum from a collection of Nikolai Grigorovskiy, owner of a Krasnoyarsk bookshop before the Communist revolution.

A glass negative featuring the girl also came from renowned photographer Ludwig Yulyevich Wonago. Might he be the mystery photograher? Yet then why the initials F. E. A.? The feeling is that the photographer for whom the girl posed is an amateur - at a time when this was a hobby of the well-to-do - rather than a professional, but who was the hidden star? 

'We think that the girl could be the photographer's daughter, or his neice, but we do not know for sure, as we do not even know the photographer's name,' said Ilya Kuklinsky.

The hope is that by a wide publication of the pictures, someone will be found who knows the story of the girl, perhaps her name, and the identity of the photographer. 

Girl on the postcard

Picture of the railway bridge over Yenisey river was printed on the post-card. Picture: Krasnoyarsk Regional Museum of Local Lore

'The set of pictures was named 'Phantom Girl', he said. 'I think we must try to solve this mystery, since the girl is almost a kind of brand for Krasnoyarsk. It is quite strange that no one noticed her, though the pictures were widely used as illustrations - and they were even made into posters.' 

Her clothing certainly suggests she was from a wealthy family, or was dressed in a way to suggest this was so.

If true, and if she was a native of Krasnoyarsk, she perhaps had more of a chance than many to flee the Bolshevik revolution when it came in 1917.

This is a huge supposition, of course, but might it be that the answer to this intriguing question lies in America or Europe? The wealthier residents of this part of Siberia had more time as well as the means to escape because it took longer for the Reds to secure eastern regions in Russia.

Girl in boots

The modern technology tells us there were subtle differences in her clothing. Here she stands in the boots with small heels. Picture: Krasnoyarsk Regional Museum of Local Lore

Perhaps a family album somewhere abroad has matching images of this 'phantom girl' from Krasnoyarsk? Please let us know if you find them or know anything of her identity, email news@siberiantimes.com or ikuk@mail.ru. 

And if she didn't go abroad, what on earth happened to her, and why was she posing here? 

We will bring you any updates we get. 

The pictures here were published by the Krasnoyarsk Regional Museum of Local Lore along with the advertising agency IDstudio and printing company Sitall. The set of pictures can be bought in Bad Guys shop and in the Museum. 

Comments (6)

I agree with Vera Amaral. It was probably the photographer's daughter. He perhaps used this photo as a trademark or copyright check. As to the "F.E.A.", I'd guess that it may be the initials of an organization to which the photographer belonged, or a business firm he owned. After all, the Russian word for "photographer" begins with the Russian "F", which is identical to the Greek letter "phi".
Bob Sklar, New York City, USA
05/02/2016 23:47
0
0
Cabe la posibilidad que esta niña estaba tratando de localizar a sus parientes y que mejor que dejarse fotografiar para que supieran que estaba en ese sitio.
Melquiades González , República de Panamá, Centroamérica
02/02/2016 05:05
0
0
I think she'd been standing there as a scale before buildings and for a remain of the forgotten times.

See you soon little girl.
François de la Grange, France
31/01/2016 21:14
2
0
Probably the girl was Photographer's daughter or relative
Vera Amaral, Portugal
30/01/2016 04:19
6
0
Interesting.. I recall that some years ago there was a similar attempt at identifying german soldiers on the back of a half track with an enigma device (during WWII). Unfortunatly the effort did not succeed...

Hope you have better luck

Cheers.
Guy Thibault, Quebec City,Canada
29/01/2016 22:43
2
0
Is this the first photo bomber in Siberia?
Alexander, Novosibirsk
28/01/2016 13:04
10
0
1

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