The following is a guest post by Melissa Lindberg, Reference Librarian, Prints and Photographs Division
Now that autumn has begun, it’s natural to look forward to its visual splendor. Searching the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog for visual inspiration to match the brisk change in the air, I stumbled upon this autumnal scene from 1911 and got sidetracked from my original project.
The image first caught my eye for its beauty and early date. Some quick research revealed that its peaceful scene belies the bloody events that took place there a century earlier, when these fields were the site of the Battle of Borodino, one of the most ferocious battles of the Napoleonic Wars.
Although most color images in the Prints and Photographs Division’s collections date from the last half century or so, this 1911 image from the Prokudin-Gorskii collection proves an exception to the rule. Russian chemist-photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii’s color photography method allowed him to capture vibrant images decades before color photography became mainstream.
But his images were also reproduced as the black-and-white prints characteristic of the period. The same image shown above appears in black and white in an album entitled “Views of the Napoleonic campaign area, Russian Empire,” compiled roughly a century after the Napoleonic Wars. In addition to showing the different impressions the same image can make in black and white versus color, the album also shows how large the French invasion of Russia loomed, even a century after the war.
Stumbling upon this superficially lovely, yet contextually somber, image demonstrates one of the greatest benefits of having access to Prints and Photographs Division resources: the opportunities to learn are endless.
- Explore the Prokudin-Gorskii Collection in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog, including a description of his color photography method.
- Enjoy an earlier Picture This blog post celebrating Prokudin-Gorskii’s 150th birthday.
- View this online exhibit about Prokudin-Gorskii’s work documenting his country before the Russian Revolution.
- Browse other P&P images related to the Napoleonic Wars.