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These color photos taken 100 years ago show the striking ethnic diversity in the Russian Empire

Neil Patrick

Sergey Mikhaylovich Prokudin-Gorski was a Russian chemist and photographer. He is best known for his pioneering work in color photography of early 20th-century Russia

Sergei was also a member of the oldest photographic society in Rusia, the photography section of the IRTS. In 1902 he went to Berlin and  spent six weeks studying color sensitization and three-color photography.

This awesome and rare photo collection in the period between 1900 and 1915 reflects the peasant life in the Russian Empire.

All photos by Library of Congress

[Full-length profile portrait of a woman, possibly Turkman or Kirgiz, standing on a carpet at the entrance to a yurt, dressed in traditional clothing and jewelry]

[Full-length profile portrait of a woman, possibly Turkman or Kirgiz, standing on a carpet at the entrance to a yurt, dressed in traditional clothing and jewelry]

Armenian woman in national costume

Armenian woman in national costume

 

Church of the Resurrection in the Grove 1910

Church of the Resurrection in the Grove 1910

 

Emir of Bukhara. Bukhara Between 1905 and 1915

Emir of Bukhara. Bukhara Between 1905 and 1915

 

Fabric merchant. Samarkand

Fabric merchant. Samarkand

 

Group of Jewish children with a teacher. Samarkand 1905-1915

Group of Jewish children with a teacher. Samarkand 1905-1915

 

Haying, near rest time. 1909

Haying, near rest time. 1909

 

The method of color photography used by Prokudin-Gorsky was first suggested by James Clerk Maxwell in 1855 and demonstrated in 1861, but good results were not possible with the photographic materials available at that time. In imitation of the way a normal human eye senses color, the visible spectrum of colors was divided into three channels of information by capturing it in the form of three black-and-white photographs, one taken through a red filter, one through a green filter, and one through a blue filter. The resulting three photographs could either be projected through filters of the same colors and exactly superimposed on a screen, synthesizing the original range of color additively; viewed as an additive color image by one person at a time through an optical device known generically as a chromoscope or photochromoscope, which contained colored filters and transparent reflectors that visually combined the three into one full-color image; or used to make photographic or mechanical prints in the complementary colors cyan, magenta and yellow, which, when superimposed, reconstituted the color subtractively

 

Man with camel loaded with packs

Man with camel loaded with packs

 

Melon vendor. Samarkand

Melon vendor. Samarkand

 

Mugan. Settler's family. Settlement of Grafovka

Mugan. Settler’s family. Settlement of Grafovka

 

Mullah with his female students near the Artomelinskaia mosque in Artvin

Mullah with his female students near the Artomelinskaia mosque in Artvin

 

Nomadic Kirghiz. Golodnaia Steppe

 

Peasant girls 1909

Peasant girls 1909

 

Pinkhus Karlinskii. Eighty-four years [old]. Sixty-six years of service. Supervisor of Chernigov floodgate. [Russian Empire] 1910

Pinkhus Karlinskii. Eighty-four years [old]. Sixty-six years of service. Supervisor of Chernigov floodgate. [Russian Empire] 1910

The photographer with two others 1915

The photographer with two others 1915

 

Three generations. A.P. Kalganov with son and granddaughter. The last two work in the shops of the Zlatoust plant

Three generations. A.P. Kalganov with son and granddaughter. The last two work in the shops of the Zlatoust plant

 

Two prisoners in shackles

Two prisoners in shackles

 

View of the monastery from Svetlitsa [Island, Saint Nil Stolbenskii Monastery, Lake Seliger]

View of the monastery from Svetlitsa [Island, Saint Nil Stolbenskii Monastery, Lake Seliger]

Work at the Bakalskii mine 1910

Work at the Bakalskii mine 1910

Perhaps Prokudin-Gorsky’s best-known work during his lifetime was his color portrait of Leo Tolstoy,which was reproduced in various publications, on postcards, and as larger prints for framing.The fame from this photo and his earlier photos of Russia’s nature and monuments earned him invitations to show his work to the Russian Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich and Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna in 1908, and to Tsar Nicholas II and his family in 1909. The Tsar enjoyed the demonstration, and, with his blessing, Prokudin-Gorsky got the permission and funding to document Russia in color. In the course of ten years, he was to make a collection of 10,000 photos.Prokudin-Gorsky considered the project his life’s work and continued his photographic journeys through Russia until after the October Revolution.He was appointed to a new professorship under the new regime, but he left the country in August 1918.He still pursued scientific work in color photography, published papers in English photography journals and, together with his colleague S. O. Maksimovich, obtained patents in Germany, England, France and Italy

Neil Patrick

Neil Patrick is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News