Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (born in 1863) was a pioneer of color photography. Between 1905 and 1915 he systematically documented Russia's various inhabitants, ethnic groups, and landscapes on behalf of Czar Nicholas II, who equipped him with a customized railroad-car darkroom. He captured an impressive range of Russia’s heterogeneous population: from day laborers to owners of large estates, from a simple ferryman to an elegant emir, from farming families to factory workers. The subjects of his landscape photography include medieval churches and monasteries of old Russia, mosques and minarets of central Asia, and railroads and factories of an emerging industrial power.
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.
Prokudin-Gorskii 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.
These early masterpieces of color photography, which have recently been laboriously restored by the Library of Congress, are presented in the book Nostalgia and showcased as a projection in the exhibition Nostalgia for the first time in Europe at Gestalten Space, Berlin. The prints, produced on the occasion of the exhibition even reveal the frames and bleed of the original photographs.
Image Credit: LOC, LC_DIG-prokc-20507