Happy 150th Birthday to Russian Empire Photographer Sergei M. Prokudin-Gorskii!

The following is a guest post by Helena Zinkham, Chief, Prints & Photographs Division.

August 30, 2013 marks the 150th birthday for the master of early color photography in Russia–Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944).

Photographer Prokudin-Gorskii on the Karolitskhali River, Georgia. 1905-1915.

Photographer Prokudin-Gorskii on the Karolitskhali River, Georgia. Color-composite photo from digitized glass negative by Sergei M. Prokudin-Gorskii, 1905-1915. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/prokc.21468

The Prokudin-Gorskii Collection at the Library of Congress features color photographic surveys of the vast Russian Empire made primarily between 1909 and 1915. Frequent subjects among the 2,600 distinct images include people, religious architecture, historic sites, industry and agriculture, public works construction, scenes along water and railway transportation routes, and views of villages and cities.

Peasant girls, Russian Empire. 1909

Peasant girls, Russian Empire. Color-composite photo from digitized glass negative by Sergei M. Prokudin-Gorskii, 1909. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/prokc.21043

Using emerging technological advances in color photography, Prokudin-Gorskii made numerous photographic trips traveling many thousands of miles to systematically document the Russian Empire, which controlled one-sixth of the earth’s land mass at that time. It was the largest empire in history and spanned what today are eleven different times zones.

Saint Nil Stolbenskii Monastery, Lake Seliger, 1911

Saint Nil Stolbenskii Monastery, Lake Seliger. Color-composite photo from digitized glass negative by Sergei M. Prokudin-Gorskii, 1911. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/prokc.21114

The Prints & Photographs Division is honored to preserve this remarkable collection, which we acquired in 1948. Reviving the color content in 2000 to 2004, through the ingenious efforts of Lynn Brooks, Walter Frankhauser, and Blaise Agüera y Arcas, has also made Prokudin-Gorskii’s extraordinary images available online for all the world to see.  Much new information about the sites shown in the photographs and fascinating pairings of then-and-now views are being gathered as a result. It’s really Prokudin-Gorskii who gives us a birthday gift– the special pleasure of seeing a vanished world captured in color by a master photographer.

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