(Above) B&W Photograph by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii.

Steam Engine Kompaund with a Shmidt Super-heater, ca. 1910

Digital color rendering. Click on image for larger view.
© Library of Congress
(Above) Same photograph after digital color (digichromatography) added to match original early process. © Library of Congress

Image © Library of Congress

Prokudin-Gorskii created albums to serve as photographic records of his trips across the Russian Empire. Each album is composed of contact prints—created from his glass plate negatives—which were mounted in the order in which he traveled. The album page shown here was created in 1915 during his last known documentary trip.

(Above) Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii.
Cotton textile Mill Interior, ca. 1907-1915
Digital color rendering. Click on image for larger view.
© Library of Congress

(Above) Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii.
Factory Interior Showing Turbines, ca. 1907-1915
Digital color rendering. Click on image for larger view.
© Library of Congress

(Above) Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii.
Cotton. In Sukhumi Botanical Garden, 1910
Digital color rendering. Click on image for larger view.
© Library of Congress

(Above) Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii.
A Sart Old Man, 1911
Digital color rendering. Click on image for larger view.
© Library of Congress

(Above) Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii.
Melon Vendor, 1911
Digital color rendering. Click on image for larger view.
© Library of Congress

(Above) Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii.
Mills in lalutorovsk Uyezd of Tobol’sk Province, 1912
Digital color rendering. Click on image for larger view.
© Library of Congress

(Above) Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii.
A Zindan (prison), ca. 1907-1915
Digital color rendering. Click on image for larger view.
© Library of Congress

(Above) Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii
A Settler’s Family, ca. 1907-1915Digital color rendering.
© Library of Congress

(Above) Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii.
Austrian Prisoners of War Near a Barrack, 1915
Digital color rendering. Click on image for larger view.
© Library of Congress

In the early years of the First World War, Prokudin-Gorskii photographed a group of prisoners of war from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The men are probably Poles, Ukrainians, and members of other Slavic nationalities, imprisoned at an unidentified location in the far north of European Russia near the White Sea. This image escaped being confiscated by border guards—the fate of the vast majority of politically sensitive images—when Prokudin-Gorskii left Russia for good in 1918—probably because what is being represented is not immediately obvious.


THE PHOTOGRAPHIC ARCHIVES OF SERGEI MIKHAILOVICH PROKUDIN-GORSKII (1863-1944) offer a vivid portrait of a lost world—the Russian Empire on the eve of World War I and the coming revolution. His 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.

In the early 1900s Prokudin-Gorskii formulated an ambitious plan for a photographic survey of the Russian Empire that won the support of Tsar Nicholas II. Between 1909-1912, and again in 1915, he completed surveys of eleven regions, traveling in a specially equipped railroad car provided by the Ministry of Transportation.
Prokudin-Gorskii left Russia in 1918, going first to Norway and England before settling in France. By then, the tsar and his family had been murdered and the empire that Prokudin-Gorskii so carefully documented had been destroyed. His unique images of Russia on the eve of revolution—recorded on glass plates—were purchased by the Library of Congress in 1948 from his heirs. For this exhibition, the glass plates have been scanned and, through an innovative process known as digichromatography, brilliant color images have been produced. This exhibition features a sampling of Prokudin-Gorskii’s historic images produced through the new process; the digital technology that makes these superior color prints possible; and celebrates the fact that for the first time many of these wonderful images are available to the public.

We know that Prokudin-Gorskii intended his photographic images to be viewed in color because he developed an ingenious photographic technique in order for these images to be captured in black and white on glass plate negatives, using red, green and blue filters. He then presented these images in color in slide lectures using a light-projection system involving the same three filters. He did this by using a single, narrow glass plate about 3 inches wide by 9 inches long that was placed vertically into the camera by Prokudin-Gorskii . He then photographed the same scene three times in a fairly rapid sequence using a red filter, a green filter and a blue filter.

You can read the entire method for converting Prokudin-Gorskii’s B&W images to color by clicking here. As well, you can see many more images.

All copy and images above are copyright © Library of Congress.

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