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Cinematography and Ethnography: The Concept of Nikolai Yakovlev

[Kino i etnografiia: kontseptsiia Nikolaia Yakovleva]

DOI: https://doi.org/10.31857/S0869541522010134

Type of publication: Research Article

Submitted:  20.04.21

Accepted: 12.05.21

About author(s)

Ivan Golovnev | https://orcid.org/0000-0003-4866-7122 | golovnev.ivan@gmail.com | Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (the Kunstkamera), Russian Academy of Sciences (3 University Emb., St. Peterburg, 199034, Russia)


Nikolai Yakovlev, ethnographic film, visual anthropology, USSR Cinema-Atlas


In the Russian/Soviet academic milieu of the 1920–30s, there was an increased interest towards employing new visual technologies in ethnography, which led to the development of novel research approaches and forms of collaboration between academic scholars and filmmakers. Among the series of attempts at visualizing ethnicity made during the period, there was an important case that deserves special attention – namely, the theoretical work of the renowned scholar of linguistics and ethnography Nikolai Yakovlev. It is the focal point of this article. I trace the development of Yakovlev’s views on ethnographic film not just as a set of applied techniques but as a unique language to be employed in the matter of recording and representation of cultural data, that is as a distinct self-contained research method. I argue that the examination of Yakovlev’s theoretical work provides us with keys to understanding the rich tradition of Soviet ethnographic cinematography, to interpreting historical documents of the period, and to unlocking interesting approaches for research in contemporary visual anthropology.

Funding Information

This research was supported by the following institutions and grants:
Russian Science Foundation, https://doi.org/10.13039/501100006769 [grant no. 21-18-00518]


Golovnev, I.A. 2022. Cinematography and Ethnography: The Concept of Nikolai Yakovlev [Kino i etnografiia: kontseptsiia Nikolaia Yakovleva]. Etnograficheskoe obozrenie 1: 213–230. https://doi.org10.31857/S0869541522010134

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