New light on a lost age: striking photographs of Russia and China in the 1920s now online

The digitisation of more than 1,500 lantern slides from the archives of Henry Sara has now been completed, allowing researchers to see many striking images for the first time.

Henry Sara, ‘lantern lecturer’, was a star speaker in the early Communist Party of Great Britain (until his expulsion from the party for dissent in 1932), and worked as a lecturer and district organiser for the National Council of Labour Colleges, an organisation formed to foster working class self-education, during the 1930s.15B-5-1-14-058

During the inter-war period, ways to find out about the wider world were limited – illustrated public lectures were a key way to inform the masses and a useful conduit for less mainstream views.

Many of Henry Sara’s lectures covered key international issues of the day – Soviet Russia, war in China, extremism in Germany, troubles in the Middle East – and were illustrated with a fantastic range of photographs. Particularly striking are two sets of tinted colour photographs of Russia in the 1910s and early 1920s – showing scenes of revolution and the lives of ordinary people (‘Russia’s labours’ and ‘Russia’s struggle’).

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Christopher Read, Professor of Modern European History at the University of Warwick, described the find as “an amazing collection of images, not least because so many of them are in colour from a time when that was very rare, but also because they illustrate everyday life in the Soviet Union at an almost forgotten moment in its history – after the revolution and before Stalin.”

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Henry Sara’s collection also contains more than 100 photographic slides of China right at the start of the 1927 civil war, many of which were taken by Sara himself during his journey to the 5th Congress of the Communist Party of China at Hankow. Sara’s camera captured views of mass meetings, foreign troops on Chinese streets and scenes of brutality.

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The digitisation is the culmination of a 12 month project at the Modern Records Centre to catalogue, conserve and make publicly available this unique hoard of images.

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View this collection of slides online here.

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