Russia Before the Revolution, in Color

1907-1915

The people of the Czar’s Empire

by Amanda Uren

1911

The Emir of Bukhara, Alim Khan (1880-1944), poses solemnly for his portrait, taken in 1911 shortly after his accession. As ruler of an autonomous city-state in Islamic Central Asia, the Emir presided over the internal affairs of his emirate as absolute monarch, although since the mid-1800s Bukhara had been a vassal state of the Russian Empire. With the establishment of Soviet power in Bukhara in 1920, the Emir fled to Afghanistan where he died in 1944.

Image: Prokudin-Gorskii / Library of Congress

Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky (1863–1944) became photographically renowned in Russia for a color portrait of Leo Tolstoy. It was this fame that, in 1909, brought him to the attention of Tsar Nicholas II.

Prokudin-Gorsky’s subsequent meeting with the tsar and the tsar’s family was to be the pivotal moment in his life: The tsar provided both the funding and the authority for Prokudin-Gorsky to carry out what he would later describe as his life’s work.

For most of the following decade, using a specially adapted railroad car as a darkroom, Prokudin-Gorsky traversed the length and breadth of the Russian Empire, recording what he saw in more than 10,000 full-color photographs.

1911

A merchant at the Samarkand market displays silk, cotton and wool fabrics as well as a few traditional carpets. A framed page of the Koran hangs at the top of the stall.

Image: Prokudin-Gorskii / Library of Congress

1907-1915

Prokudin-Gorksii captures the traditional dress, jewelry and hairstyle of an Uzbek woman standing on a richly decorated carpet at the entrance to a yurt, a portable tent used for housing by the nomadic peoples of Central Asia. After conquering Turkestan in the mid-1800s, the Russian government exerted strong pressure on the nomadic peoples to settle permanently in villages, towns and cities.

Image: Prokudin-Gorskii / Library of Congress

1911

Dressed in traditional Central Asian attire, a vendor of locally grown melons poses at his stand in the marketplace of Samarkand in present-day Uzbekistan.

Image: Prokudin-Gorskii / Library of Congress

1909

Pinkhus Karlinskii, the supervisor of the Chernigov floodgate, stands by a ferry dock along the Mariinskii Canal system in the northern part of European Russia. In the photo album of his tour of the canal system, Prokudin-Gorskii noted that Karlinskii was 84 years old and had served for 66 years.

Image: Prokudin-Gorskii / Library of Congress

The color process Prokudin-Gorsky worked with required three separate black-and-white exposures, each one taken through either a red, green or blue filter. When the filtered exposures were combined, the result was the full chromatic spectrum in a photograph.

Prokudin-Gorsky left Russia in 1918 after the Communist Revolution and ultimately came to settle with his family in Paris. Approximately half of his own negatives were confiscated by the Russian authorities on his departure.

1910

A Bashkir switch operator by the main line of the railroad, near the town of Ust-Katav on the Yuryuzan River between Ufa and Chelyabinsk in the Ural Mountains of European Russia.

Image: Prokudin-Gorskii / Library of Congress

ca. 1907-1915

Wearing traditional dress and headgear, a Turkmen camel driver poses with his camel, laden with what is most likely grain or cotton. Camel caravans remained the most common means of transporting food, raw materials and manufactured goods in Central Asia well into the railroad era.

Image: Prokudin-Gorskii / Library of Congress

In 1948, the Library of Congress bought the remaining photographic materials from Prokudin-Gorsky’s heirs. At the turn of the millennium, the Library exhibited the a number of the photographs as The Empire That Was Russia, and has since made the digitized versions of Prokudin-Gorsky’s work available for free online.

This selection of images shows some of the portraits Prokudin-Gorsky captured of the diverse people who together made up the Russian Empire, before the revolution.

ca. 1907-1915

A Chinese foreman poses with established tea plants and new plantings at a tea farm and processing plant in Chakva, a small town just north of Batumi on the Black Sea coast.

Image: Prokudin-Gorskii / Library of Congress

1911

In a photograph taken near Samarkand, an elderly man, probably an ethnic Tajik, holds birds he has just caught . Samarkand and its region were noted for wide diversity in ethnic groups, including Uzbeks, Tajiks, Persians and Arabs as well as the more recently arrived Russians.

Image: Prokudin-Gorskii / Library of Congress

ca. 1907-1915

Dagestan, meaning “land of mountains” in the Turkic languages, contains a population consisting of many nationalities, including Avars, Lezgi, Noghay, Kumuck and Tabasarans. Pictured here is a Sunni Muslim man of undetermined nationality wearing traditional dress and headgear, with a sheathed dagger at his side.

Image: Prokudin-Gorskii / Library of Congress

ca. 1907-1915

A couple in traditional dress poses for a portrait in the mountainous interior region of Gunib on the north slope of the Caucasus Mountains in what is today the Dagestan Republic of the Russian Federation.

Image: Prokudin-Gorskii / Library of Congress

1909

Young Russian peasant women offer berries to visitors to their izba, a traditional wooden house, in a rural area along the Sheksna River near the small town of Kirillov.

Image: Prokudin-Gorskii / Library of Congress

1910

A. P. Kalganov poses with his son and granddaughter for a portrait in the industrial town of Zlatoust in the Ural Mountain region of Russia. The son and granddaughter are employed at the Zlatoust Arms Plant—a major supplier of armaments to the Russian military since the early 1800s.

Image: Prokudin-Gorskii / Library of Congress

1915

Prokudin-Gorskii, right front, and others ride the Murmansk Railroad in a handcar along the shores of Lake Onega near Petrozavodsk. From the beginning of Russian railroad construction in the 1850s, rails were laid using a wider gauge (5 feet, 3.5 inches) than the standard European one.

Image: Prokudin-Gorskii / Library of Congress

ca. 1907-1915

Inmates stare out from a zindan, a traditional Central Asian prison — in essence a pit in the earth with a low structure built on top. The guard, with Russian rifle and bayonet, is attired in Russian-style uniform and boots.

Image: Prokudin-Gorskii / Library of Congress

1911

Samarkand, an ancient commercial, intellectual, and spiritual center on the Silk Road from Europe to China, developed a remarkably diverse population, including Tajiks, Persians, Uzbeks, Arabs, Jews and Russians. Samarkand, and all of West Turkestan, was incorporated into the Russian Empire in the middle of the 19th century and has retained its ethnic diversity. Here, Jewish boys in traditional dress study with their teacher.

Image: Prokudin-Gorskii / Library of Congress

1911

Many Central Asiatic peoples lived nomadic lives, migrating seasonally from one place to another as opportunities for obtaining food, water, and shelter changed. Shown here is a young Kazakh family in colorful traditional dress moving across the Golodnaia (or “Hungry”) steppe in present-day Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

Image: Prokudin-Gorskii / Library of Congress

ca. 1907-1915

Ethnic Russian settlers to the Mugan Steppe region established a small settlement named Grafovka, immediately north of the border with Persia. Settlement of Russians in non-European parts of the empire, and particularly in border regions, was encouraged by the government and accounts for much of the Russian migration to Siberia, the Far East and the Caucasus regions.

Image: Prokudin-Gorskii / Library of Congress

ca. 1907-1915

Workers, identified by Prokudin-Gorskii as Greeks, pose while harvesting tea from plants spreading over rolling hills near Chakva, on the east coast of the Black Sea. This region of the Russian Empire, in present day Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, had a significant Greek minority.

Image: Prokudin-Gorskii / Library of Congress

1910

Monks plant potatoes in fields reclaimed from the dense conifer forest at the Gethsemane Hermitage on Lake Seliger near the headwaters of the Volga River.

Image: Prokudin-Gorskii / Library of Congress

1912

Workers and supervisors pause for a photograph amid preparations for pouring concrete foundations for a dam across the Oka River southeast of Moscow, near the small town of Dedinovo.

Image: Prokudin-Gorskii / Library of Congress

ca. 1907-1915

Borzhomi is a small town in the Caucasus Mountains in the interior of what is now the Republic of Georgia. Noted for its mineral waters, it was a fashionable spa at the end of the 19th century. Here, visitors stop by the Ekaterinin (“Catherine’s”) Spring.

Image: Prokudin-Gorskii / Library of Congress

1909

An early autumn scene from 1909 shows farmers taking a short break from their work to pose for their photograph. The location, though unidentified, is probably near the town of Cherepovets in north central European Russia.

Image: Prokudin-Gorskii / Library of Congress

1910

The Ural Mountain region is noted for the richness of its iron deposits and ores. The Bakaly hills, in the area outside the city of Ekaterinburg, provide the locale for a small-scale family mining operation.

Image: Prokudin-Gorskii / Library of Congress

1909

Children sit on the side of a hill near a church and bell-tower in the countryside near White Lake, in the north of European Russia.

Image: Prokudin-Gorskii / Library of Congress

1907-1915

Russia Before the Revolution, in Color

by Amanda Uren

Russia in color, a century ago

With images from southern and central Russia in the news lately due to extensive wildfires, I thought it would be interesting to look back in time with this extraordinary collection of color photographs taken between 1909 and 1912. In those years, photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944) undertook a photographic survey of the Russian Empire with the support of Tsar Nicholas II. He 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 Library of Congress, which purchased the original glass plates back in 1948. (34 photos total)

An Armenian woman in national costume poses for Prokudin-Gorskii on a hillside near Artvin (in present day Turkey), circa 1910. Google Map, (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)

Self-portrait on the Karolitskhali River, ca. 1910. Prokudin-Gorskii in suit and hat, seated on rock beside the Karolitskhali River, in the Caucasus Mountains near the seaport of Batumi on the eastern coast of the Black Sea. Google Map, (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

Molding of an artistic casting (Kasli Iron Works), 1910. From the album “Views in the Ural Mountains, survey of industrial area, Russian Empire”. Google Map, (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

A woman is seated in a calm spot on the Sim River, part of the Volga watershed in 1910. (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

A chapel sits on the site where the city of Belozersk was founded in ancient times, photographed in 1909. Google Map, (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

View of Tiflis (Tblisi), Georgia from the grounds of Saint David Church, ca. 1910. Google Map, (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

Isfandiyar Jurji Bahadur, Khan of the Russian protectorate of Khorezm (Khiva, now a part of modern Uzbekistan), full-length portrait, seated outdoors, ca. 1910. Google Map, (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

A closer detail view of Isfandiyar, Khan of the Russian protectorate of Khorezm. This photo would have been taken near the start of his reign in 1910, when he was 39 years old. He ruled Khorezm until his death in 1918. Google Map, (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

On the Sim River, a shepherd boy. Photo taken in 1910, from the album “Views in the Ural Mountains, survey of industrial area, Russian Empire”. (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

Alternators made in Budapest, Hungary, in the power generating hall of a hydroelectric station in Iolotan (Eloten), Turkmenistan, on the Murghab River, ca. 1910. Google Map, (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

A Georgian woman poses for a photograph, ca. 1910. (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

A group of women in Dagestan, ca. 1910. Google Map, (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

General view of Artvin (now in Turkey) from the small town of Svet, ca. 1910. Google Map, (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

Pinkhus Karlinskii, eighty-four years old with sixty-six years of service. Supervisor of Chernigov floodgate, part of the Mariinskii Canal system. Photo taken in 1909. (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

General view of the Nikolaevskii Cathedral from southwest in Mozhaisk in 1911. Google Map, (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

A group of Jewish children with a teacher in Samarkand, (in modern Uzbekistan), ca. 1910. Google Map, (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

A switch operator poses on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, near the town of Ust Katav on the Yuryuzan River in 1910. Google Map, (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

Cornflowers in a field of rye, 1909. From the album “Views along the Mariinskii Canal and river system, Russian Empire”. (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

Laying concrete for the dam’s sluice, 1912. Workers and supervisors pose for a photograph amid preparations for pouring cement for sluice dam foundation across the Oka River near Beloomut. Google Map, (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

Sart woman in purdah in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, ca. 1910. Until the Russian revolution of 1917, “Sart” was the name for Uzbeks living in Kazakhstan. Google Map, (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

General view of the wharf at Mezhevaya Utka, 1912. (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

Peasants harvesting hay in 1909. From the album “Views along the Mariinskii Canal and river system, Russian Empire”. (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

Prokudin-Gorskii rides along on a handcar outside Petrozavodsk on the Murmansk railway along Lake Onega near Petrozavodsk in 1910. (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

A water-carrier in Samarkand (present-day Uzbekistan), ca. 1910. Google Map, (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

A dog rests on the shore of Lake Lindozero in 1910. From the album “Views along the Murmansk Railway, Russian Empire”. Google Map, (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

Factory in Kyn, Russia, belonging to Count S.A. Stroganov, 1912. Google Map, (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

Russian children sit on the side of a hill near a church and bell tower near White Lake, in Russia, 1909. Google Map, (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

Emir Seyyid Mir Mohammed Alim Khan, the Emir of Bukhara, seated holding a sword in Bukhara, (present-day Uzbekistan), ca. 1910. Google Map, (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

A boy leans on a wooden gatepost in 1910. From the album “Views in the Ural Mountains, survey of industrial area, Russian Empire”. (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

A metal truss bridge on stone piers, part of the Trans-Siberian Railway, crossing the Kama River near Perm, Ural Mountains Region, ca. 1910. Google Map, (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

Nomadic Kirghiz on the Golodnaia Steppe in present-day Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, ca. 1910. Google Map, (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

A man and woman pose in Dagestan, ca. 1910. Google Map, (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

A general view of Sukhumi, Abkhazia and its bay, seen sometime around 1910 from Cherniavskii Mountain. Google Map, (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

A boy sits in the court of Tillia-Kari mosque in Samarkand, present-day Uzbekistan, ca. 1910. Google Map, (Prokudin-Gorskii Collection/LOC) #

 

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