Immigrants in the 1920s

Immigrants in the 1920s

  • Daily life of Armenians

    DJOLOLIAN-ARAX Krikor (1897 - 1975)

  • Polish family posing in their backyard in a mining town

    ZGORECKI Kasimir (1904)

  • Group portrait of residents


Daily life of Armenians

© National Museum of the History of Immigration

Polish family posing in their backyard in a mining town

© National Museum of the History of Immigration

To close

Title: Group portrait of residents

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Creation date : 1928 -

Dimensions: Height 14 cm - Width 21 cm

Technique and other indications: Russian House association deposit

Storage location: National City of Immigration History website

Contact copyright: © National Museum of the History of Immigration

Group portrait of residents

© National Museum of the History of Immigration

Publication date: April 2016

Heritage Curator, Head of Historical Collections, National Museum of the History of Immigration

Historical context

The self

In the France of the 1920s, precariousness was both social and economic. In reaction to this situation, the sense of community grew spontaneously among the Poles (who represented, in 1921, 0.1% of the total French population, or 46,000 people), the Russians (of which there were nearly 80,000 people in 1920) and the Armenians (bringing together nearly 60,000 people in 1926).

The Poles work in the big industrial centers and the mines of the North. Family weekends are punctuated by outings to the countryside, cafes and sporting events.

In a completely different context, Princess Vera Mestchersky, who is one of the White Russians (noble emigrants who fled the Russian Revolution and the Soviet regime), upon her arrival in France, created the Maison Russe foundation with a view to educating young girls. She receives from her pupil Dorothy Paget the Château de la Cossonnerie, in Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois (Essonne), where she welcomes other Russians to bring their own culture to life.

The author of the first photo is Krikor Djololian-Arax. In addition to these reports, he works in the studio.

Kasimir Zgorecki is the author of the second photograph. Until 1939, he recorded nearly 3,700 studio portraits and traveled by bicycle to photograph weddings and communions. As a result, the pictures he produces come from orders from a predominantly Polish clientele and obey gender-coded standards.

The author of the third photo is anonymous.

Place of residence, the house also symbolizes the heritage of a family and inscribes the lineage in a space. Despite successive moves and ruptures, the family put together a unit in their home and organize their spaces according to their role: garden, kitchen, bedroom. As a result, it refers to a memorized house, a model, and tries to recreate it elsewhere, thus restoring coherence and integrity both from a social and geographical point of view.

Image Analysis

Group portraits, family portraits

This set of photographs shows several portraits of groups: Armenians and two families, one Polish, the other Russian.

These two-color photos were taken outdoors. Each family poses in front of their house, of which only the doors and the windows punctuate the composition vertically. Poles and Armenians fan out around a table in the center of the image.

These three photographs share another point in common: the taste for staging and ceremonial. Indeed, people are ready for a great occasion. If the white shirt is de rigueur for men, the suits of the latter vary slightly, with tie or bow tie. The ladies wear long dresses, bright or flowery, enhanced with necklaces. Particular attention is paid to the headdress, which reveals the person's social origins: a knot for girls, a bun for mothers, boyish cuts for young women. The mature man wears a top hat, the commoner the cap, and the dandy the slicked back hair.

Through the quality of the images he produces, Kasimir Zgorecki is similar to Eugène Atget. He operates with a wooden chamber and uses glass plate negatives. Inventive, he made his own enlarger.


A kaleidoscopic memory

According to Abdelmalek Sayad, the photograph of an immigrant community illustrates the desire to legitimize its presence in a national space and to assert its economic weight, because its presence is always conceived as temporary.

Through photography, everyone also shares a memory, that of the moment spent together. This type of personal event functions like collective memory. Indeed, the individual inserts his personal story in a time and place serving as a point of reference for the group. By evoking the memory of this shared moment, the cohesion of the group is strengthened. The memory is materialized according to the lived experience. These various individual accounts show that each event is protean and varies according to social constraints.

Thus, family photography takes on a strong symbolism. It bears witness to things and missing persons, while evoking the social status of the latter. Passed down from generation to generation, it is the emerging point of a network of social relations passing from the private sphere to the public sphere. Restoring the individual narrative with personal objects is a real challenge for the National Museum of the History of Immigration, because these leave many voids and unspoken. In each object, the family chronology is reconstructed and then compared with historical events.

The feelings that accompany the migratory experience are put forward and create an intimate bond with the visitor. By giving these photographs to the museum, families have physically detached themselves from a good, from an "object of affection", in order to bear witness, to edify and to entertain future generations: a social order based on intimate is created.

  • immigration
  • workers
  • 20s

Study in partnership with:


CHEMINOT Marie, "The Poles in front of the lens: two photographic studios in migration territories", in PONTY Janine (ed.), Polonia: Poles in France from 1830 to the present day, cat. exp. (Paris, 2011), Paris, Cité nationale de l'Histoire de l'Immigration / Montag, 2011.

DASSIÉ Véronique, Objects of affection: an ethnology of the intimate, Paris, Committee for Historical and Scientific Work, coll. "The look of the ethnologist" (no 22), 2010.

DEVIN Peter, Kasimir Zgorecki, cat. exp. (Douchy-les-Mines, 1994), Douchy-les-Mines, Nord-Pas-de-Calais Regional Photography Center, 1994.

HALBWACHS Mauritius, Social frameworks of memory, Paris, Albin Michel, coll. "Library of the Evolution of Humanity" (No. 8), 1994 (1st ed. 1925).

To cite this article

Magdalena RUIZ MARMOLEJO, "Immigrants in the 1920s"

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