Sergeii Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky traveled the land of the Czars, from Siberia to the Urals, from Tajikistan to Don to make what felt like his life’s mission: to document for the benefit of any future Empire, customs, faces, traditions, innovations, work, landscapes and architecture of a vast civilization called Russian Empire. Sergeii Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky added a personal contribution of no less importance: the extraordinary color of his photographs, obtained by a technique based on the realization of three shots in rapid succession (take a whole lasted 2-3 seconds at most) of three filters of different colors blue, red and green.
Sergeii Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky was able to achieve this miracle technology due to his vast knowledge of the chemical processes involved in photography. Not only years before he had even studied under Dmitri Mendeleev Institute of Technology St. Petersburg, but to perfect his techniques in 1902 had gone to Berlin for six weeks, move on to learn the most advanced techniques for synthesizing color at the study of the photo-chemical Adolf Miethe, the pioneer flash and other innovations in the field of photography.
During his trip around the Russian Empire, Sergeii Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky visited the most remote corners. He photographed the shepherds of Dagestan and the Emirs Uzbeks in vestments, the Armenian peasants in traditional costume and workers to work in the factories of the Urals, the Jewish teachers of Samarkand and the Kyrgyz nomads of Golodnaia, the soldiers of Belarus Minsk and Mandarins on the border with China, modern dams in Ukraine and views of Stone Town in Kazakhstan, Catholic churches and Orthodox monasteries in ruins, the steppes of Siberia and the roofs of St. Petersburg. Between rural and industrialization, just as Gorsky continued in its ten-year project, put the first World War and then the Revolution of October 1917, two events in quick succession that led to the slow and brutal liquidation of those contradictory images of many different big Russia.
When the wing of the Bolshevik Party took definitive control of the revolutionary masses, although he was offered an academic work, Gorsky decided to leave the country to emigrate to France, to Paris where he died in 1944 while another war was raging. Of the 10,000 negatives he had taken was able to take it with him that only 3,500 survived the Nazi occupation sheltered in a cellar until, after the Second World War, in 1948 the Library of Congress of the United States there purchase from the heirs of Prokudin for $ 5000 with the intent to restore and return the photo to its original color. In 1980 the publishing house Sidgwick & Jackson London picked up some in a volume entitled Photographs for the Tsar: The Pioneering Color Photography of Prokudin-Gorskii Commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II. Last fall, the publishing house Gestalten Berlin has collected some other in another volume. It’s called Nostalgia and it’s beautiful.
Selected by Ingrid Melano