Monday, August 30, 2010

Portraits of a lost Russia

Emir Mir Mohammed Alim Khan 1910
In one of the photographs below there's a well dressed man sitting by a stream. He's clutching a walking stick and gazing into the distance. The photograph looks like it could have been taken recently. However it was taken over 100 years ago, 25 years before Kodak introduced its first popular colour film in 1935.

Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky, the man sitting next to the stream was one of the early pioneers of colour photography. It is believed that Russia's first colour portrait was taken by Sergei in 1908, it's a picture of Leo Tolstoy. The Tsar was so impressed that he gave him permission to travel across the Empire, and now 100 years later we can see his results. These beautiful images were bought by the Library of Congress in 1948. Now 100 years after Sergei travelled across Russia his 1,900 photographs have been digitised and brought back to life.

There's a wonderful exhibition at the Library of Congress web site called "The Empire That Was Russia". Go and have a look, see how the photographs were taken.
Self Portrait of Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky 1910
Russian Settlers 1907
Prisoners with Guard 1907


  1. Truly beautiful (and deeply fascinating for me as someone who has never visited or studied that part of the world). Seeing historical photos in accurate color, as opposed to neutrals or tinted, gave me a much different "feeling" while viewing.

    And that's quite a process he went through, shooting 3 filters in quick succession. I would like to see some examples where the model(s) moved slightly from filter to filter.



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