Saturday, June 20, 2009

New Russian art, AD 1909



These color photographs were all taken in the Russian Empire between 1909 and 1918.





Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii was a Russian photographer born in 1863. After studying chemistry with Mendeleev and later with Adolf Miethe - one of the crucial figures in the invention of color photography - Gorskii started developing his own techniques and processes of color photography, giving it a quality that even impresses even today.
In 1909, he convinced the tsar Nicolas II to send him on a trip across the Russian Empire, to document its impressive diversity. It was a 10-year project, during which Gorskii took over 10 000 pictures, and it ended up outlasting the tsar himself, and the Empire for that matter, as the October Revolution swept away the monarchy. In 1918, he emigrated to Paris, where he died in 1944.

The image archive of 1902 negatives which were left was bought by the Library of Congress a few years after the artist's death, and was put online in 2004. You can find it here.




Prokuda-Gorskii's most famous photo is of Leo Tolstoy, dated 1908.


But I prefer this monumental, megalomaniac and modest project of documenting Imperial Russia, which at the time was larger than the USSR ever came to be. The diversity of the people, and the shockingly modern colors of their portraits, make them impossible to forget. They are our contemporaries, now that they stopped hiding between the unfocused black-and-whiteness.
They are almost too present.

Austrian (probably meaning also Polish and of other origins) prisoners somewhere in Russia. It's really worth seeing a high-resolution image.


Here he is, Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii. In a landscape that is (eerily?) ours.
PS. The amazing color bars that appear on some of the pictures are the result of Prokudin-Gorskii's ingenious process, which consisted in taking three subsequent, monochromatic photographs, one with a green filter, one with blue and one with red. He then superimposed the three projections using lamps with a corresponding filter system. I adore these frames, unfortunately some of the images needed additional computer editing (by the Library of Congress) and in this version were cropped.
You can find an extended biography of Gorskii here.

20 comments:

Rolfe Bautista said...

Wow what an amazing body of work!!! I love this series

lilbookbinder said...

Stunning! Thanks for sharing.

Natalis said...

niesamowite...!

YaroslavMisonzhnikov said...

Amazing!

Rebeka said...

this really is amazing!
how did You find it? It is shockingly amazing!

Phone with a Cord said...

so beautiful and very inspirational, I tweeted your post :)

Ares Vista said...

Those photos are amazing! I'm not too familiar with Russian art, but now you've piqued my interest, to say the least. Thanks!

Daria said...

What an amazing quality of photos for that era!!

MATTHEW ROSE said...

Hello... I see you are from Poland and writing about art. Hoping you'll take a look at this open call for art: A BOOK ABOUT DEATH. Exhibition in NYC, opening on September 10, 2009.

http://abookaboutdeath.blogspot.com/

Best, Matthew

Pippa said...

Wow :)
It's amazing how colour makes things look so much more modern. Just looking at them I thought they were from the 60's or 70's.

kiaune said...

wow, i am stunned!! just can't believe it.

Beannie Please said...

These photographs captured the essence of the cultural diversity in Russia. Splendid work!

LYONSPOTTER said...

I can't get over how fantastic these are!

Whitney said...

Incredible! I was completely unaware that there were color photographs from this time period. It makes the early 20th century seem less removed from the 21st century.

Verónica Conte said...

For the first time, I saw on these photos the very images of my fantasies about these places. And because of that, for a moment I felt that I could go there and find the same places, the same faces. For a moment I stayed as a child believing in a fairy tale. But on the next second, imposed by the reality/quality brought by the photos, I realise how impossible that fantasies might be. The most special of these photos, for me, is the way they make me to travel from adult-child-adult. thank you

Janine said...

Phantastic photos.

CPeterson said...

i've been reading a lot of russian authors lately, and these photos were a perfect addition. thanks

http://christinepaintsthings.blogspot.com/

Baterbys said...

Wow! I can't believe these were taken in the early 1900's, especially the ones with the frames. Check out my blog: www.baterbys.blogspot.com

zs said...

stunning

johngf said...

The last one looks like an early "milky water" shot! I'm guessing not by choice though due to the exposure time needed.

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