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Photographer Anton Orlov, left, talks with Barbara Hoffmann at Hoffmann's home in Sebastopol. Orlov had come to present a show of "magic lantern" slides taken in World War I-era Russia by her grandfather, John Wells Rahill.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

Barbara Hoffmann carries a samovar, used in Russia to heat water for tea, which was brought to America by her grandfather in 1918. She and photographer Anton Orlov were preparing for a showing of magic lantern slides he also brought back with him from Russia.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

John Bressie views photographic works by Orlov on the school bus that Orlov owns. He uses the bus for transportation and to display his work. It also has a darkroom.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

Orlov projects magic lantern slides next to Hoffmann's home in Sebastopol.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

Hoffmann, far right, joins a group of local residents to watch a showing of the glass slides taken by her grandfather.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

An original 1917 black-and-white print and its companion hand-tinted magic lantern slide are among hundreds of images that Orlov bought from Hoffmann.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Orlov walks into his traveling photography bus in San Diego. A fine-art photographer and lecturer, he travels the country documenting everyday life on old, large format film cameras. The 1978 Gillig bus was once used by the Durham Unified School District in California's Central Valley area.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Orlov looks through a box of the 1917 magic lantern slides in his San Diego darkroom. Projected on the screen is one of the photos, showing Russian artillery pieces.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Orlov holds another slide. He bought 500 of the hand-colored glass slides from Hoffman for sorting and study, providing a fascinating link to the past for both of them.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Orlov in the fully functional darkroom in the back of his converted school bus.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Orlov holds a No. 1 Kodak Jr. camera like the one that American photographer John Wells Rahill used in 1917 in Russia.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Photographer John Wells Rahill steps out from behind his camera to join some village children for a picture..

An image shows photographer John Wells Rahill somewhere in China. His route to Russia took him through Manchuria.

Orlov holds a magic lantern slide of Russian soldiers photographed by Rahill.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Another picture of soldiers by Rahill.

Street scenes during a time of turmoil is a common theme in Rahill's photos..

Such images by Rahill provided Orlov with a poignant link to his Russian heritage.

Another Rahill photograph shows the rigors of wartime life.

Rahill's photos document the tough life for Russians near the front in World War I.

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1917 glass plates offer glimpses into WWI-era Russia

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1917 glass plates offer glimpses into WWI-era Russia

All her life, Barbara Hoffmann heard the story about her grandfather, John Wells Rahill – how he left his wife and baby daughter in 1917 for Russia. He had signed up with the YMCA, armed with best intentions to help the soldiers and civilians along the Eastern Front. He also brought a large, slightly ungainly camera and began to take pictures. Hoffmann grew up with boxes of the glass-plate images and, after her parents died, wondered what she would do with them. Two years ago she sold them to a young Russian émigré, Anton Orlov, a photographer who is trying to recover their lost provenance.

Read Tom Curwen’s article: ‘Magic lantern’ images from Russia revolutionize a life

2 Comments

  1. March 8, 2013, 9:41 am

    Some of these are so beautiful, I want to see more. Only 19 posted here, most of them are shots of the developer today, was hoping for more from 1917.

    By: tutu
  2. April 13, 2013, 2:55 am

    Very foolish to hold two historic glass plates whilst be jumped upon by dog.

    Plate find is brilliant and invaluable source of information for researchers.

    By: Bernard of Gaunt

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