To Surveil and to Prevent. Photography in the Judicial System of the Russian Empire: The Lithuanian Contexts

Acta Academiae Artium Vilnensis




photography, judicial system, personal identity, identification, Northwest Region, politics of the Russian Empire


The article discusses the emergence of judicial photography in the historical lands of Lithuania under Russian administration. The research covers the period from the 1860s to World War I. It was a time of social shifts in the Russian Empire, when the changing economic and legal basis of communal existence and the increasing migration of people brought the issue of personal identity to the fore. The weakening mechanisms of disciplining an individual, characteristic of class-based public order, began to give way to police methods that could penetrate deeply into the social structure, and, along with these methods, to a new technique of personal identification – photography.

In the so-called Northwest Region, the state first used the new visual medium for repressive purposes in suppressing the Polish-Lithuanian uprising of 1863-1864. However, it was not until the turn of the 19th and 20th century that it became a customary instrument of police work. At that time, photographic identification began to be introduced not only in criminology, but also in administrative practices. The visual means of personal identification was above all applied in the fields of public life related to transport, communications, mil- itary service and higher education. Photography became an indicator signal- ling the basic spheres of the state’s strategic interests, on which the power and security of the Romanov empire relied.

In the Lithuanian provinces, the principles of visual control over the subjects had not only typical, but also unique features. The circumstance that this territory bordered on the rebellious Kingdom of Poland and the German Empire, which was gaining economic and military power, as well as the fact that it was inhabited by people of different nationalities and faiths, determined the particularly strict approach of the local authorities to the legal regulation of the functions of photography, and specific attention to controlling the rep- resentatives of the Catholic Church and persons of Jewish origin. Thus, in this region, visual surveillance included larger groups of inhabitants than in the inner territories of the Russian Empire outside the Pale of Settlement, where Russian Orthodoxy was the dominant religion.



How to Cite

Mulevičiūtė, J. (2021). To Surveil and to Prevent. Photography in the Judicial System of the Russian Empire: The Lithuanian Contexts: Acta Academiae Artium Vilnensis. Acta Academiae Artium Vilnensis, (99), 26–58.