Colour Photographs of Everyday Life in the Russian Empire

  • By the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 the Russian Empire stretched from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Black Sea in the south west and to the borders of Persia, Afghanistan, India and China in the south-east. It spread from Finland and parts of Poland and the Baltic States in the West to the Pacific Ocean and the northern borders of Japan in the east. In the census of 1897 the population (excluding Finland) was 125.6 million (128 million including the population of Finland. There were more than 150 different languages co-existing within the empire, six major religions, including Russian/Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Moslems, Jews and Buddhists as well as several small religious sects. 

  • It was this geographical breadth and ethnic and religious diversity that Sergei Mikhailovich Produkin-Gorskii (1863-1944) set out to capture photographically from 1907 to 1915. He also wanted to capture the architectural diversity and the ways in which the Empire was responding to industrialisation and modernisation. His mission was to educate the peoples of the Empire, particularly the schoolchildren, about this diversity. He had the support of Tsar Nicholas II. The Tsar provided him with a special railway car which included a photographic dark room, and the Tsar also gave him a signed permit requiring local government administrators to cooperate with Produkin-Gorskii and a permit allowing him access to anywhere he wished to photograph, even restricted areas.

  • He left Russia in 1918 after the Revolution and then lived in Paris until his death in 1944. Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944) was a chemist and active photographer from Russia. He is famous for one of the first attempts to create colorful photographs. He experimented with his technique mainly between years 1905 and 1915. For his work he used a camera that took three different monochrome pictures through filters with red, green and blue color. It was then possible to use a projector to mix all three pictures and create a colorful images.


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