Pre-revolutionary Russia… in colour




While black and white photography is often beautiful, by its very nature it's one step removed from reality.

While we can all appreciate, say, the devastation in monochrome photos of the Blitz's aftermath, the lack of colour puts a barrier in our way. People look different, somehow older, somehow unlike us. It's only when we look at colour photographs of a period we're used to seeing in black and white that the reality of what's being depicted is apparent. 

This is certainly the case with these photos of pre-revolutionary Russia. The work of photographer Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky, the project was commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II in 1907 after he'd seen Prokudin-Gorsky's colour portrait of Leon Tolstoy. For the next eight years the snapper traversed this vast land capturing the people that populated it, from peasants in in the steppes near Persia to Islamic scholars in the central Asian city of Samarkand. 

Without colour film, Prokudin-Gorsky had to innovate, taking three separate exposures in black and white, with a green, red or white filter, before placing them together to get a colour photograph. Who knows how much hassle taking a selfie would have been.

What's most apprent is how colour takes away the black and white 'barrier'. These people now look like us, the children pictured are just modern kids who've had a go at dressing up for a school history project, the adults identical to us save for their traditional clothing. The only thing that dates the snaps are the items that aren't there… no phones, televisions or nylon sportswear. 

While every living moment is now snapped and saved for posterity, this collection takes us a period when photography was the preserve of the elite. For many here, this would have been the first (and perhaps only) time they stepped in front of the camera. And that is what makes it so special.

Source: Mashable

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