The Empire that was Russia (audio slideshow)


He captured more than landscapes and monasteries: Uzbek prisoners in a provincial jail, young Russian peasant women, and Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war. His photography on his long trips by train capture a world lost to swift and monumental change.

A century after Prokudin-Gorsky became a pioneer of color photography, we are finally able to view his compelling body of work. 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. A new exhibit using digital technology finally brings this work to a general audience.

Born in Murom, Vladimir Province, in 1863, and educated as a chemist, Prokudin-Gorsky devoted himself to the advancement of photography. He studied with renowned scientists in St. Petersburg, Berlin, and Paris. His own original research yielded patents for producing color film slides and for projecting color motion pictures. He used a camera that took a series of three monochrome pictures in sequence, each through a different-colored filter. By projecting all three monochrome pictures, he could reconstruct the vivid color of the scene.



He travelled around Russia by train, with a railroad car darkroom provided by Czar Nicholas II and two permits that granted him access to restricted areas. These privileges allowed Prokudin-Gorsky to freely document the Russian Empire from 1907 through 1915.

Prokudin-Gorsky left Russia in 1918, traveling first to Norway and England before settling in France. By then, the czar and his family had been murdered and the empire that Prokudin-Gorsky so carefully documented had been destroyed.

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