Rare Original Color Photos of the Russian Empire in the 1910s

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While many people believe that color photography is a relatively new invention, due to the fact that it was not very common until the 1960s and 70s. You may be surprised to find out that high-quality original color photos exist from over 100 years ago!

 Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky holding a cane and sitting on a rock by a river with mountains in the background in color
Original color photo of Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky sitting by Korolistskali River near Batumi, Russian Empire, 1912.

The man you see in the original color photo above is Russian chemist Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky. Prokudin-Gorsky was a pioneer in techniques that would produce highly detailed color photos in the early 1900s. While not the inventor, he developed and mastered the process that was first suggested and demonstrated by people as early as the 1850s.

The simple way to explain the process is that three black and white photographs are taken through a red filter, a blue filter, and a green filter, and when the three photos are projected together, a color image is formed. This is a very simplified explanation but it gives you a small idea as to how Prokudin-Gorsky could take color photos over 100 years ago!

At the request of the Emperor of the Russian Empire, Nicholas II, from 1909 to 1915, Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky traveled across the Russian Empire on a railroad car documenting the regions he passed through by producing original color photos.

Below you can get a unique insight into the Russian Empire on the eve of World War I and its subsequent collapse during the Russian Revolution. Here is a selection of Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky’s rare color photos taken throughout the 1910s and covering a range of subjects.

The People of the Russian Empire

Color photo of Said Mir Mohammed Alim Khan in 1911
Sayyid Mir Muhammad Alim Khan, the Emir of Bukhara photographed by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky in 1911. At the time, Bukhara was a protectorate of the Russian Empire is located in present-day Uzbekistan.
Nomadic Kyrgyz Family
A nomadic Kyrgyz family photographed in color on the Mirzachoʻl Steppe in modern-day Uzbekistan, 1911.
Lau-Dzhen-Dzhau a Chinese foreman in the Russian empire photographed in color
Original color photo by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky of Chinese foreman Lau-Dzhen-Dzhau at a tea factory in Chakva/Chakvi in modern-day Georgia, circa 1910.
Dagestani couple in the Russian Caucasus Mounatins
Color photograph of a Dagestani couple photographed by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky in the mountainous region of Gunib, in the present-day Republic of Dagestan, circa 1910.
Bashkir woman
A Bashkir woman wearing traditional clothing photographed by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky in the Ural Mountains, Russian Empire, 1910.
Three generations. A.P. Kalganov with son and granddaughter. The last two work in the shops of the Zlatoust plant
Three generations of the Russian Empire: A. P. Kalganov with his son and granddaughter outside the Zlatoust Arms Plant where the son and granddaughter work in Zlatoust, Russian Empire, 1910.
Elderly Tajik man
An elderly ethnic Tajik man holding birds that he just caught, Samarkand, Russian Empire (modern-day southeastern Uzbekistan), circa 1911.

Buildings of the Russian Empire

Early color photo of Nilov Monastery on Stolobny Island, Lake Seliger, Russian Empire in 1910.
Windmills in Siberia, 1912
Wooden windmills of Ialutorovsk County in Tobolsk Province, Siberia, Russian Empire photographed in color by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky, 1912.
Yellow wooden church in Pid'ma, Russia
Color photograph of the wooden Church of the Transfiguration of Our Lord in the village of Pid’ma, Russian Empire, 1909.
City of Tobolsk
1912 original color photo of the city of Tobolsk, Russian Empire taken from Assumption Cathedral looking northwest.
Color photo of a hotel in Gagra
A new hotel in Gagra, Russian Empire (present-day Georgia) with a chauffeur-driven car parked outside, circa 1910.

More original color photos by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky of the Russian Empire from 1909-1915 can be found in the Prokudin-Gorskii Collection on the Library of Congress website.

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