Mixed with the plates were about 400 index cards upon which Rahill had typed a few words for each picture.
Russian Machine Gunner.
Dilapidated Building, Effect of Revolution, Fall of 1917.
Soldiers Tent Quarters. 50 degrees below zero at Valk.
Orlov paused over images of Rahill, distinguishable for his glasses, often in a bow tie and with a camera case hanging from his wrist. Orlov saw him standing on the brink of modern history.
War had erased the boundaries of Europe. The eastern front was in shambles: desertions, food shortages, labor strikes. The czar had just abdicated. A provisional government assumed power, and in October — just before Rahill's arrival — the Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace, beginning the country's long experiment in socialism.
Orlov paused over a shot that showed barricades crisscrossing the streets of Arbat Square in Moscow. Sixty years later, he was born in that neighborhood.
In another picture, a boy was selling newspapers at the train station in Omsk. Orlov's great-grandparents were from that town.
After returning the collection to Hoffmann, Orlov still pursued Rahill's life. He prowled the Internet, called the YMCA archive in Minnesota, contacted churches in the Midwest.
He learned that Rahill couldn't join the Army because he was clergy. He enlisted instead with the National War Work Council of the YMCA as a secretary, someone who provided services to soldiers fighting the Germans.
In 1917, he crossed the Pacific and made the long journey to Valk, a small town known today as Valga, on the border between Latvia and Estonia. He set up a chapel and recreation room in a school and welcomed soldiers on leave from the front.
Rahill's Russian adventure ended when the Bolsheviks grew suspicious of foreigners, and after three months, he returned home. Orlov believes Rahill had the glass plates made in order to show images of war and of Russia to a wider audience.
One hundred years separated them, but Orlov felt a connection to Rahill. When he and his mother immigrated to Brooklyn in 1994, he too landed in an unfamiliar world.
He had just graduated from high school in Moscow and would have to enlist in the army, but neither he nor his mother wanted that. The military was not welcoming to Jews or Muscovites, and memories of the 1991 and 1993 attempted coups — tanks on CNN, explosions outside their window — were still vivid.
Orlov tried to capture their departure at the airport. But his camera broke, adding to the confusion of the moment — his estranged father waving goodbye, his girlfriend in tears, luggage ripping open — and at the last minute, they had to buy a new crate for their dog.
Orlov and his mother moved to San Diego when she landed a job with a pharmaceutical company. He took up surfing, enrolled at Palomar Community College and was going to be a biochemist until friends took him hitchhiking to Seattle.
On the trip, he decided to be a photographer. He earned a fine arts degree. He practiced black-and-white printmaking. He took portraits of friends at Rainbow Gatherings and made videos backed with punk music or instrumental hip-hop.
At 35, he lives in San Diego, rents darkroom space and plans to drive around the country in a school bus that he converted into a darkroom and art studio. In 2017, he hopes to visit Russia and re-photograph the buildings and locations on the glass plates.
Two years ago, Hoffmann agreed to sell the collection: $1,500 for everything, including the projector. The recession had hit her and her husband hard — she was a potter, he a woodworker — and she felt guilty for letting go of her grandfather's legacy. The decision was easier when Orlov agreed to make a digital copy of the collection for her.
Last month, Hoffmann, 61, was surprised to hear from Orlov. He said he had developed a presentation of her grandfather's slides. He called it "Orlov's Magic Lantern Experience," and he wanted to stop by.
Guests crowded a small studio on her property. Hoffmann hung up a large sheet of white fabric, and as Orlov worked the projector, she watched her grandfather's world emerge from the darkness. Whether Orlov's ambitions were eccentric or inspired, she couldn't tell, but she admired his earnestness.
"If anyone has the will and the stamina and the youth and the interest and the skill to do anything with these pictures, it is he," she said.
The pictures had allowed Orlov to capture his identity, and through his research, Hoffmann connected with her past.
After the presentation, he gave her two glass plates, featuring images of her grandfather in glasses and bow tie. The next day, Orlov was on the road in his school bus, heading north on 101. He had booked more showings farther up the coast.