book cover photo with Ivan Timiriasew taking photos

A New Book Based On Photos of Early 20th-century Helsinki by Ivan Timiriasew

Ivan Timiriasew (1860–1927) was a Russian cavalry officer and adjutant to the Russian Governor General in Finland. He also recorded Helsinki in hundreds of photos, which are fascinating documentary flashes of life in Finland’s capital from a century ago. The Helsinki City Museum and Parvs Publishing Ltd are publishing a book entitled Ivan Timiriasew – Helsinkiläinen valokuvaaja (Ivan Timiriasew—A Photographer from Helsinki) by Iisa Aaltonen and Elina Maaniitty on 7 October 2021.

Ivan Timiriasew was a passionate amateur photographer, a significant documenter of life in Helsinki, and a renowned and well-liked resident of the Finnish capital. Alongside his military career, Timiriasew photographed the city and its people extensively, being awarded with several prizes and honorary diplomas for his photos. Among the rare gems in Timiriasew’s collection are his photographs of the Russian military based in Helsinki during the First World War—as well as his carefully selected snapshots of the city’s routines and celebrations with its playing children, market vendors and May Day parades.

After retiring from the military, shortly before the Russian Revolution in October 1917, Timiriasew settled in Helsinki and went on to pursue a new career as a photojournalist. With their human warmth and wealth of content, his photographs offer highly relatable perspectives on early 20th century Helsinki and the life of its residents. The Helsinki City Museum purchased the first batch of photos from Ivan Timiriasew a century ago, in 1921. There are over 600 Helsinki-themed photos by Timiriasew in the museum’s collections, and they have become a beloved entity used on many occasions.

Ivan Timiriasew – Helsinkiläinen valokuvaaja is published by the Helsinki City Museum and Parvs Publishing Ltd and written by Iisa Aaltonen and Elina Maaniitty. Iisa Aaltonen is a historian who specialises in the history of Helsinki, as well as a social scientist specialising in cultural policy. At the moment, she is working as a cultural producer at the Helsinki City Museum. Elina Maaniitty is a historian who is currently finishing her dissertation at the University of Helsinki on epidemics and medicine in 18th-century Sweden. Her research interests include historical demographics, historical epidemiology, the history of science and maritime history.

“After seeing Timiriasew’s photos during a work project, I started to wonder why he is not as well known as Signe Brander, for example. And why is his ‘foreignness’ brought up almost without exception? Was he truly a stranger in 20th-century Helsinki?” Elina Maaniitty explains the origin of the book project.

“As a person, Timiriasew is particularly fascinating because of his multiple, sometimes overlapping, roles in Helsinki at the turn of the century. Despite his controversial position, he was an approachable and well-liked person who was able to get close to his photography subjects,” Iisa Aaltonen says.

The book will be available at the Helsinki City Museum Shop and bookshops from 7 October 2021.

The publication launch event for the book will be held at the Helsinki City Museum on Thursday, 7 October 2021 at 17:00–18:00. At the event, Professor of European History Laura Kolbe from the University of Helsinki will interview the book’s authors, Iisa Aaltonen and Elina Maaniitty, about the story behind the book. Entry to the event is free of charge.

Book cover photo: Ivan Timiriasew taking photos at Kaisaniemi Park with the northern shore of the Eläintarhanlahti bay at the background. Photo: Finnish Heritage Agency