How can early-20th century Russia be in color?

The photograph above looks both archaic and contemporary and the longer you think about that — mentally collapsing the fact that it is a portrait of the Emir of Bukhara in 1911 with the reality that it was shot in color — the more disorienting it becomes.  Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii documented the Russian empire in the years before WWI using a glass-plate negative camera designed in 1906 that allowed him to take three separate images in quick succession with red, green, and blue filters that could be layered to create the rich color range seen in the portrait above, or in this photo (also from 1911) of the Shakh-i-Zindeh mosque in Samarkand:

I once stood in the Prado in Madrid staring at a triptych by Hieronymus Bosch and marveled that it could take nearly 500 years to get from that to Surrealism, but looking at the lush depth of these color photographs the wonder is that it took almost sixty years to get from Prokudin-Gorskii to William Eggleston.


Click here to see these remarkable color photographs of the Great Depression, another moment in time we generally conceive of in black and white.  Or here to see photographs of Eric Clapton, Elton John and other 1970s rock stars at home in the dowdy living rooms of their parents.  Or here to peek into the Gaddafi family photo album, where the Leader appears a tender family man at times and a thug life caricature at others.


One Response to “How can early-20th century Russia be in color?”

  1. […] color photographs of the Russian Empire from the 1910s still seem astounding.  I wrote more about them here, but I’ll include one below as an […]

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