The Empire That Was Russia

24 08 2010

The Tsarist Russian Empire is a curiosity to me, I have Rachel and Orlando Figes to blame for that! I’m slowly learning more about this large and rather unique Empire, especially in the period running up to the 1917 October Revolution. A couple of days ago Rachel came across an online documentary photo exhibition of Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii’s work. Between 1909-1912 and again in 1915, Prokudin-Gorskii conducted a photographic survey of the Russian Empire at a time when Tsar Nicholas II’s Empire was on the eve of World War 1 and events were unfolding that would take the country to Revolution. During the political backdrop of that period Prokudin-Gorskii’s subjects ranged from the medieval churches and monasteries of old Russia, to the railroads and factories of an emerging industrial power, to the daily life and work of Russia’s diverse population.

Apart from the extent and quality of the survey, what makes Prokudin-Gorskii’s work so remarkable is that he constructed his own photographic technique and equipment so his images could be viewed in colour. By taking a series of three black and white slides in short succession using red, green and blue filters that he combined by projection on to a screen, he was able to reproduce Russian scenes in colour.

The Library of Congress in the USA purchased the photographs and are currently presenting Prokudin-Gorskii’s survey in colour on their website. Just click on the 1911 portrait of The Emir of Bukhara, Alim Khan below for The Empire that was Russia exhibition:

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