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gorskii-old-russia-photographs3 Inspiration

Stunning Century Old Color Photographs of Russia by Prokudin-Gorskii

By Michelle Bird on March 13th 2014


Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii captured a side of Russia no one had ever seen, bringing to life it’s people and the simplicity of how they once lived before the October Revolution, Soviet Union and World War I ever happened. Not only were these photographs taken over a century ago, but they were captured in color, when color photography was in its experimental stages and was very much unusual and even unknown to some. How did Prokudin-Gorskii achieve this?


The chemist and late photographer was commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II to capture the essence of Russia between 1909-1912. Prokudin-Gorskii would then take three photographs of his subjects, one in red, green, and blue filters, the monochrome photographs would later be projected onto a screen of each color filter, and lastly placed on top of each other achieving utterly realistic and vibrant images.


There’s such a mixture of rich and subtle tones alike, it makes you feel like they could’ve been taken today with people wearing period costumes.

[REWIND: Giving Film a Chance, Exploring New Photography in an Old School Way]


Although it was much easier to capture landscapes with this method as it didn’t include any moving subjects, Prokudin-Gorskii often photographed people– the only color photograph known to be taken of the great Leo Tolstoy, was captured by Prokudin-Gorskii in 1908. The mismatch of color in certain photographs can reveal when the subject moved between photos.


Color portrait of Leo Tolstoy.

Prokudin-Gorskii was never able to finish his 10-year photography project as he was forced out when tensions in Russia quickly escalated. At that point in time, the photographer had already compiled over 3,500 negatives, but sadly the majority of those were taken away when he left the country. The U.S. Library of Congress purchased the 1,902 that were saved, and are now housed there for safe keeping.












To view the entire collection, you can visit the Library of Congress website.


[via Daily Mail]

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Michelle Bird is a Southern California based freelance photographer and writer, with a strong focus on music, editorial and portrait photography. She is the founder and creative force behind the music+culture online blog Black Vinyl Magazine, and can often be found in the photo-pit shooting the latest concerts in town. She has a strong passion for art, exploring, vintage finds and most of all animals. Connect with her through Email,
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Q&A Discussions

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  2. Graham Curran

    What beautiful color – is there a PS plug-in?

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  3. Connor

    Wow these are amazing. They do look like they could have easily been taking today with actors in period clothes. The color is amazing.

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  4. theo

    Wow this are unreal!

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