The Russian Empire Of Czar Nicholas II Captured In Color Photographs

Nostalgia

Nostalgia (Gestalten, ISBN 978-3-89955-439-7, $88) showcases Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii’s (1863–1944) restored masterpieces of early color photography that are a milestone in Russia’s cultural history. In 1909, Russian chemist and photographer Prokudin-Gorskii set out on a journey to capture all of Russia in color on behalf of Czar Nicholas II, systematically documenting the vast empire with the unprecedented technique he had developed—a method in which he used color-sensitive glass plates—decades before the widespread availability of color film. His color images were not only meant to document the diverse citizens, ethnicities, settlements, folklore, and landscapes of a vast empire, but to create nothing less than a common identity for its populace.

The publisher writes: “Before he commenced what would become a six-year expedition, Prokudin-Gorskii—like most of his contemporaries—had no idea what his fellow countrymen from the distant regions of Russia looked like or how they lived. His color images were not only meant to document the diverse citizens, ethnicities, settlements, folklore, and landscapes of a vast empire, but to create nothing less than a common identity for its populace.

Prokudin-Gorskii’s expert use of color and his skilled eye make his images especially vibrant and timeless. A century later, they have not lost any of their original beauty and intensity.

Regarding the unprecedented technique Prokudin-Gorskii developed: He used a camera that exposed one oblong glass plate three times in rapid succession through three different color filters: blue, green, and red. For formal presentations, the negative plate was placed in a triple lens lantern so the three exposures could be superimposed to form a full color image on a screen. Due to the brief time lapse between the fixation of the three frames on the plate, the perspective is slightly distorted to a varying degrees on the final image and results in random shimmers of color.”

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