Monday, May 22, 2017

The Serbian Retreat by Samson Chernov (1915-1916)

After the capture of Belgrade in October 1915 by the Austro-German forces the Serbian army retreated to Albania, an event sometimes called the "Albanian Golgotha". During the long winter march of 1915-1916 the Serbs suffered around 150,000 casualties, including many soldiers who died from cold, starvation and disease. Covering the retreat with his camera was Samson Chernov.

Lost in the Snow - photograph of the Serbian retreat by Chernov, from the collection of the Library of Congress. Right: Samson Chernov, picture taken during World War I

Chernov (1887‒1929) was a Russian cameraman who worked for the French film company Gaumont and became famous for his photographs of the Russo-Japanese War. He came to Serbia in 1912 as a correspondent for two Russian newspapers. During the second Balkan War he reportedly made two short films, After the Capture of Adrianople and The Battle of Bregalnica.

Pioneer of Cinematic War Reporting

In September 1914, the General Staff of the Serbian Army assigned Chernov as a cinematographer to the film crew of Djoka M. Bogdanović, owner of the cinema Kasina. Bogdanović - like Chernov a pioneer of cinematic war reporting - had produced films on the Second Balkan War, some of which have been posted on the Europeana Weblog.  The crew filmed the events on the front near the Sava river, the city of Šabac in ruins, the crossing of the Serbian army over the Sava river and the destruction of Belgrade.

According to Serbian film historian Dejan Kosanovic, Chernov's films got lost during World War I but a fascinating collection of still photographs taken by Chernov during the Serbian retreat to Albania has survived. Chernov recorded the epic ordeal of the long winter march while at the same time capturing the suffering with images of men wandering around and dying in the streets of hunger and exhaustion.

Upon his arrival at Corfu, Serbian prime minister Nikola Pašić decided to send Chernov to Europe on a publicity tour. On June 5, 1916, in the gallery of the Royal Institute in London, he organized an exhibition on the Balkans in wartime since 1912. After America had entered the war Chernov also lectured in the United States.

The website of the Wilson Center has this interesting article on Chernov's photographic work during World War I. 

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