russia in color: a century ago

russia in color series
Emir Seyyid Mir Mohammed Alim Khan, the Emir of Bukhara, seated holding a sword in Bukhara (present-day Uzbekistan), ca. 1910.

Between 1909 and 1912, photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944) undertook a photographic survey of the Russian Empire with the support of Tsar Nicholas II and the Ministry of Transportation. Prokudin-Gorskii used a specialized camera to capture three black and white images in fairly quick succession, using red, green and blue filters, allowing them to later be recombined and projected with filtered lanterns to show near-true color images. The high quality of the images, combined with the bright colors, make it difficult for viewers to believe that they are looking 100 years back in time. When these photographs were taken, neither the Russian Revolution nor World War I had yet begun. Collected here are a few of the hundreds of color images made available by (the miracle that is) the Library of Congress, which purchased the original glass plates back in 1948.

A chapel sits on the site where the city of Belozersk was founded in ancient times, ca. 1909.

An Armenian woman in national costume poses for Prokudin-Gorskii on a hillside near Artvin (near present-day Turkey), ca. 1910.

A view of the Nikolaevskii Cathedral in Mozhaisk, ca. 1911.

A man and woman pose in Dagestan, ca. 1910.

Metal truss bridge on stone piers, part of the Trans-Siberian Railway, crossing the Kama River near Perm, Ural Mountains Region, ca. 1910.

A boy leans on a wooden gatepost in the Ural Mountain region, 1910.


In this last image, Self-portrait on the Karolitskhali River (ca. 1910), Prokudin-Gorskii is seated on a rock beside the Karolitskhali River. The Karolitskhali is located in the Caucasus Mountains near the seaport of Batumi on the eastern coast of the Black Sea.

I'm enthralled by this whole Prokudin-Gorskii trove. Next post will offer more information on the innovative, ingenious process that Prokudin-Gorskii developed to produce these brilliant images.

:library of congress