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Rudolf Keller Photography, 1925 – 1942
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Rudolf Keller Photography, 1925 – 1942

My grandfather Rudolf Keller was born into an upper class family in Saint Petersburg, Russia in 1987 and has a fairly interesting life story. His childhood years were still in the “Good Old Times” of the Tsarist Empire, when the upheavals of the 20th century were still many years away.

Rudolf moved to the US in 1917, found a wife and became father of a daughter in 1919 (already back in Riga). His wife died in 1924 and the young widower married again in 1926 – my grandmother.

In late 1939 / early 1940 the Keller family was resettled to Poland (at the time occupied by the German Reich), like almost all of the German population in the Baltic states. Rudolf was drafted into the German army, where he did not get along well. He died of a heart attack in 1942 at the age of just 55.

Rudolf’s professional life wasn’t all roses. After two revolutions (1905 and 1917) the family wealth was gone, as was the upper class status of the German minority in Russia as such, now the Soviet Union.

Even the - now independent – Baltic states started to challenge the positions the Germans held in their societies.
In the early Thirties, Rudolf was a operating manager position in a plywood factory (a happy time, reportedly), until this factory became insolvent. Later he owned a small photo store, which was much less lucrative.

 


Rudolf Keller as a Photographer

Photography also was one of his hobbies, obviously. Without hurting him, I think it can be said that he was not the greatest photographer of all. But even less ingenious shooters score every now and then…

The technical side of photography must also have been of interest to him, as can be gathered by the number of different cameras he used over the years, at least seven, with various formats, also glass plates and stereo slides. I am unable to attribute the glass plates to particular cameras, I believe the stereos come from a Voigtlaender. And I know he has owned a 6x6 Rolleiflex at one point in time as well as a Robot (24x24mm on 35mm film). Most of the 35mm negatives were taken with a Leica III.

All these negatives have found their way through the war and post war turmoil. My father has later stored them in a drawer for decades.

The images show a peculiar mixture of subjects. There are no pictures from before 1925, so none from his time in the US, unfortunately. I guess Rudolf has only started taking pictures later, or the glass plates were lost. Rudolf was not all too careful adjusting his cameras, nor did he pay ultimate attention to the composition. His favorite subjects were his family, Riga and the Baltic landscape.

 

Family

 


Riga

Rudolf has taken lots of pictures of his adopted home town Riga. Some houses he has shot so often, there must be a reason?

How empty the streets were, and the architecture undestroyed! Looking at these pictures, I guess I live in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

 


Plywood factory

This surely looks like an interesting place to work and the wooden villa that the Keller family occupied, must have been a fantastic place to live, plus the surrounding area serving as a huge adventure playground.

 


Turbulent Times

Actually, times were less idyllic than it appears on most of the pictures. Only some show people in uniforms, and only very few have swastikas on them.

One of the most interesting pictures is that of the young lady newsagent. From the newspaper headline it can be dated to end August 1939, very few days before World War II outbreak.

 


Country Life

These pictures show how close to nature the life of the Kellers was. Sure, it must have been cold and dark in winter, but it appears they have spent most of the time outdoors during the rest of the year.



Baltic Sea Coast

The fishermen, the sea, the pines and the sand – how nice!

 


What makes these pictures valuable

Rudolf Keller may have not been much than a hobby photographer but I see high value in his pictures, in that they illustrate their time by showing ordinary things in a lively way.

Thanks for that, Rudolf!

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