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March 26, 2004

An Extraordinary Window into the Past of Russia

I came across these color photographs of life in Tzarist Russia and they had me feeling like I was looking through a window into the past. Photos that are over a hundred years old always seem to be black and white and very posed. They leave me feeling quite distant. These photos drew me in. They look like they could have been taken yesterday. The children look so alive and yet they're long dead. The monasteries that once were would soon become concentration camps and orphanages.

Please take a look at the works of Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii arranged into exhibits of Architecture, Ethnic Diversity, Transportation, People at Work,
and if you're interested look to the details of his color process.

Look here for an album of all 122 color images. This photo is amazing! Here is the album that contains all 2,608 images.

Addendum:In comments, Jason Malloy points me to this source and this one where Addison Godel, the siteowner, has mounted a personal effort to restore the photographs. As noted in the introduction Prokudin-Gorskii's art had the same impact on Godel as I felt.

These were dazzling, full-color shots of people long since dead, landscapes long since paved, and an empire long since overthrown. I discovered the online exhibit in mid-May and was, frankly, overwhelmed; not to knock the fine art of black and white photography, but I'd always felt that the past was somehow obscured by being viewed solely through a greyscale window. To see places, buildings, and especially people in color was to understand, on a very deep level, that they had at one time really, truly existed - that the "Typical Russian Peasant of Figure 32" was not merely some gaunt presence in the side of a textbook, but a genuine person who, if not for temporal chance, could have been my neighbor or my friend. It was touching.
Posted by TangoMan at 01:17 AM