We tend to think of moments in history in black and white, but these well-preserved glass negatives by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, featuring scenes from the Czarist 1900s, reveal life in revolutionary Russia in full color. Endorsed by the last czar Nicholas II, we are able to view these unique images today via digichromatography.
Lately, we’ve been showing you some galleries highlighting colorized versions of vintage photographs, such as these colorized photos of 1931 Moscow. While it definitely whet our visual appetites, we were just blown away by these very rare and unique high-resolution color images of Russia in the 1900s. This is Imperial Russia on the brink of the Bolshevik takeover, before World War I, before commercial color photography.
Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii was a photographer to the last emperor, Nicholas II, beginning 1909. Prokudin-Gorskii had pioneered a color photography technique years prior and desired to document the entire empire “to give all Russians a deeper connection to their country.” After petitioning the endeavor to the tsar, he was provided with a specially equipped railroad-car darkroom which became his base during the six-year photographic expedition.
Surviving world wars and national battles, thousands of Prokudin-Gorskii’s glass negatives were purchased by the Library of Congress in 1948 but it was only recently—nearly a century after they were taken—that archivists were able to properly develop and display the images. Using high-technology equipment, digichromatography restored the archaic Russian pictures to their original vibrant color for our viewing pleasure.
“It is as rare as hen’s teeth to have color photography from that era,” said Helena Zinkham, chief of the Prints and Photographs Division of the LOC. “So it just knocks peoples’ socks off, even if you have no direct connection to Russia.” Gestalten, a German publishing company, is set to publish the coffee table book Nostalgia: The Russian Empire of Czar Nicholas II Captured in Color Photographs this month.
Aren’t the photos mindblowing? Not only were they incredibly well-stored and well-restored, but they are amazingly crisp, clear, and colorful, possessing impressive image quality that is ahead of its time. See more on the Prokudin-Gorskiy website, or create some Imperial images of your own with premium Russian cameras from our Shop!