Empire of Color: Early 20th Century Russian Photography

Sergei Prokudin-Gorskiiwas a Russian chemist who’s experimental color photography captures the life of Russia before the Revolution with striking realism. His process consisted of shooting black-and-white exposures with red, green and blue filters, combining them to create a color image. (This process was often done on board a makeshift dark room on his long train journeys.)

From 1909 thru 1915, Prokudin-Gorskii traveled across the Empire and back again collecting images that, according to this Denver post article, were supposed to be a photographic survey.  The daily life of the everyday worker (as well as the not so everyday worker) is documented without propaganda or pretense—these were the faces that would soon see their lives (along with, by extension, the rest of the world) changed forever by Revolution.

With the crudest of technology, Gorskii produced images that even  100 years on, still look as fresh and new and vibrantly real as though they were taken only moments ago.

The past has rarely been so tangibly real.

Dagestani types, Man and woman posed outdoors; between 1905 and 1915 Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii Collection (Library of Congress).
View of the monastery from Svetlitsa Island, Saint Nil Stolbenskii Monastery, Lake Seliger; 1910
Mugan, Settler's family, Settlement of Grafovka; between 1905 and 1915
Peasant girls in a rural area along the Sheksna River, near the town of Kirillov; 1909
Isfandiyar, Khan of the Russian protectorate of Khorezm (Khiva), full-length portrait, in uniform, seated on chair, outdoors; between 1910 and 1915
Cotton textile mill interior, between 1905 and 1915
Alim Khan, Emir of Bukhara, seated holding sword; between 1905 and 1915.
self portrait of photographer Prokudin-Gorskii beside the Karolitskhali River; between 1905 and 1915
Altar side of the Dmitrievskii Cathedral, Vladimir; 1911
On the Saimaa Lake; between 1905 and 1915 Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii Collection (Library of Congress).

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Film writer and social media marketing professional. 2019 Social Ambassador for the 10th Annual TCM Classic Film Festival. Previously: social media associate at Warner Archive and script writer for Turner Classic Movies. Working on a Montgomery Clift biography due late 2020.

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