10 Incredible Historical Images of Imperial Russia – In Full Color

One brilliant chemist and photographer from the 20th century figured out how to create color photographs. His work, which he framed in glass and later held on to for dear life, gives the whole world a glimpse of the great Russian Empire of old.

How Did He Do It? 

Color photography as we know it was not possible in 20th century Russia. Instead, Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky created a remarkable process to capture his subjects in this way. He took three separate images — one with a red filter, one with a green filter and one with a blue filter. He later projected these filters onto a screen, superimposing the images to create the images we now have at our fingertips.

Nicholas II took a liking to his photography, and he supported Prokudin-Gorsky's documentation of all corners of his empire. After the 1917 Russian Revolution that toppled the Tsar government and created the Bolshevik government, the photographer went into exile. The only thing he took with him was his collection of roughly 2,000 glass-plate negatives and a photograph album. The U.S. Library of Congress purchased his photos in 1948 and published them in 1980.

What He Uncovered 

Covering over 23,000 square kilometers, the empire had approximately 128 million people living under its rule. Policies of "Russification" discouraged the use of local languages and customs, prompting resistance among the diverse population. It's exactly this diversity that Prokudin-Gorsky wanted to show the world.

1. "Sawyers on Svir" (1909)

2. "Peasant Girls"

3. "Work at the Bakalskiy Mine" (1910)

4. "Three Generations of a Family"

5. "Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky Sits by the Suna River" (1915)

6. "Greek Female Workers in Tea Fields"

7. "Knurl Firefood Used for Roasting Ore" (1910)

8. "A Small Gorki Village in Borodino" (1911)

9. "Inside a Joiner's Shop"

10. "Building a Dam in Beloomut" (1912)

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Marguerite Ward

Marguerite Ward is a journalist and editor based in New York. Connect with her @forwardist.

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