Friday, August 27, 2010

Russia in color, a century ago

One reason I have been thinking lately about the old Russian Empire, before the First World War and the Russian Revolution swept it away, is that one of my cousins, the journalist Pamela Weintraub, has been reconstructing genealogical information about how my father's family--parents, grandparents, and others--managed to escape from it and emigrate to New York City back in 1902-1903. (And thank goodness they did!)

=> An item on normblog alerted me to a remarkable set of 34 color photographs taken across the Russian Empire between 1909 and 1912, in the years just before World War I. They're posted on the Boston Globe's photo blog. Alan Taylor, who runs the that website, explains:
With images from southern and central Russia in the news lately due to extensive wildfires, I thought it would be interesting to look back in time with this extraordinary collection of color photographs taken between 1909 and 1912. In those years, photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944) undertook a photographic survey of the Russian Empire with the support of Tsar Nicholas II. He used a specialized camera to capture three black and white images in fairly quick succession, using red, green and blue filters, allowing them to later be recombined and projected with filtered lanterns to show near true color images. The high quality of the images, combined with the bright colors, make it difficult for viewers to believe that they are looking 100 years back in time - when these photographs were taken, neither the Russian Revolution nor World War I had yet begun. Collected here are a few of the hundreds of color images made available by the Library of Congress, which purchased the original glass plates back in 1948. [Editor's Note: I will be on vacation for a bit. Next entry will be published on 8/27] (34 photos total)
The Russian Empire was quite vast, of course, and included a lot of non-Russians. All but a few of the photos in this particular set come from the eastern and south-eastern reaches of the Empire--Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Siberia. Here are some random examples (click on them to enlarge).

Jewish children with their teacher in Samarkand (now part of Uzbekistan) in 1910 (#16):

Isfandiyar Jurji Bahadur, Khan of Khorezm (now in Khazakhstan), 1910 (#7):

Prokudin-Gorskii, the photographer, rides along on a handcar on the Murmansk railway along Lake Onega (northwest Russia), 1910 (#23)

Armenian woman in national costume poses for Prokudin-Gorskii on a hillside near Artvin (which I assume would have been just across the border in the Ottoman Empire, now Turkey), circa 1910 (#1).

=> See the whole set of 34 photos, full-size, HERE.

[Update: An on-line compilation of the overall Prokudin-Gorskii Collection, with 2606 digitized images, is available HERE. Thanks to Pamela Weintraub for the tip.]

--Jeff Weintraub