Prokudin-Gorskii’s methods were genius. The quality is such that viewers often find it difficult to believe that they are looking more than 100 years into the past.

Self-portrait on the Karolitskhali River, ca. 1910. Prokudin-Gorskii in suit and hat, seated on rock beside the Karolitskhali River, in the Caucasus Mountains

With the support of Tsar Nicholas II, Prokudin-Gorskii amassed a collection of colour photographs portraying the Russian Empire between 1905 and 1915. The photographer was granted access to many restricted areas and had a permit that required the cooperation of the bureaucrats. The vision he had for the extensive project was to educate the children of the Russian Empire about the vast history and modernization of the country. They provide a captivating look into the daily lives of those living throughout the Russian Empire just prior to the Revolution and on the eve of the first World War.

Color photography became a reality in the 1860s, but it was not widely accessible. Prokudin-Gorskii used a specialized camera that took 3 photos in quick succession, with a red, green and blue filter. These images could later be projected with filtered lanterns allowing or the creation of near-true colour images.

It is estimated that Prokudin-Gorskii had created about 3,500 negatives by the time he left the Russian Empire. Many were confiscated due to their sensitive nature and others were hidden or given away. A box of 1,902 negatives plus 710 prints without a corresponding negative was purchased by the United States Library of Congress from Prokudin-Gorskii’s heirs in 1948.

Have a look at some of the photos taken by Prokudin-Gorskii in the early 1900s.

An Armenian woman in national costume poses for Prokudin-Gorskii on a hillside near Artvin (in present day Turkey), circa 1910

General view of the wharf at Mezhevaya Utka, 1912

A chapel sits on the site where the city of Belozersk was founded in ancient times, photographed in 1909

View of Tiflis (Tblisi), Georgia from the grounds of Saint David Church, ca. 1910

A group of women in Dagestan, ca. 1910