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Rare Historical Photos Show 1910s Imperial Russia In Glorious Color

Given how many historical photos are video are shot in black and white, many of us can forget that the past was also in full color – we just don’t get to see it. However, these photos of Russia in the beginning of the 20th century by photographer Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky give us a rare glimpse into the past in full and glorious color.

Color photography, in the way that we understand it, was not possible at the time, but it was possible to create a color image for the viewer by completing three separate photographs. Prokudin-Gorsky had to take three separate photographs of the same subject – once with a red filter over the lens, once with a green filter, and once with a blue filter (red, green, blue – RGB – is a set of color channels used by many digital images as well). Later on, these three monochromatic images would be projected through filters of those same colors onto a screen and superimposed. When viewed through a final filter, they would appear as a realistic color image to the viewer.

A trained chemist and artist, Prokudin-Gorsky began creating tricolor photos after studying with German photochemistry professor Adolf Miethe. Tsar Nicholas II was so impressed by Prokudin-Gorsky’s work, including his famous portrait of Leo Tolstoy, that he commissioned the photographer to take pictures all over Russia. Though he fled Russia after the October Revolution, the negatives he took with him that weren’t confiscated were eventually purchased by the U.S. Library of Congress in 1948 and published in 1980.

Source: U.S. Library of Congress (via: imgur)

Emir Seyyid Mir Mohammed Alim Khan, the Emir of Bukhara, seated holding a sword in Bukhara, (present-day Uzbekistan), ca. 1910

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General view of the Nikolaevskii Cathedral from southwest in Mozhaisk in 1911

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A switch operator poses on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, near the town of Ust Katav on the Yuryuzan River in 1910

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Sart woman in purdah in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, ca. 1910. Until the Russian revolution of 1917, “Sart” was the name for Uzbeks living in Kazakhstan

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A group of Jewish children with a teacher in Samarkand, (in modern Uzbekistan), ca. 1910

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A dog rests on the shore of Lake Lindozero in 1910. From the album “Views along the Murmansk Railway, Russian Empire”

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

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A general view of Sukhumi, Abkhazia and its bay, seen sometime around 1910 from Cherniavskii Mountain

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Russian children sit on the side of a hill near a church and bell tower near White Lake, in Russia, 1909

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Alternators made in Budapest, Hungary, in the power generating hall of a hydroelectric station in Iolotan (Eloten), Turkmenistan, on the Murghab River, ca. 1910

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A man and woman pose in Dagestan, ca. 1910

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On the Sim River, a shepherd boy. Photo taken in 1910, from the album “Views in the Ural Mountains, survey of industrial area, Russian Empire”

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Nomadic Kirghiz on the Golodnaia Steppe in present-day Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, ca. 1910

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Isfandiyar Jurji Bahadur, Khan of the Russian protectorate of Khorezm (Khiva, now a part of modern Uzbekistan), full-length portrait, seated outdoors, ca. 1910

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A boy leans on a wooden gatepost in 1910. From the album “Views in the Ural Mountains, survey of industrial area, Russian Empire”

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Factory in Kyn, Russia, belonging to Count S.A. Stroganov, 1912

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A group of women in Dagestan, ca. 1910

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A water-carrier in Samarkand (present-day Uzbekistan), ca. 1910

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Prokudin-Gorskii rides along on a handcar outside Petrozavodsk on the Murmansk railway along Lake Onega near Petrozavodsk in 1910

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Peasants harvesting hay in 1909. From the album “Views along the Mariinskii Canal and river system, Russian Empire”

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Laying concrete for the dam’s sluice, 1912. Workers and supervisors pose for a photograph amid preparations for pouring cement for sluice dam foundation across the Oka River near Beloomut

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A Georgian woman poses for a photograph, ca. 1910

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General view of the wharf at Mezhevaya Utka, 1912

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Cornflowers in a field of rye, 1909. From the album “Views along the Mariinskii Canal and river system, Russian Empire”

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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 near the seaport of Batumi on the eastern coast of the Black Sea.

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

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A boy sits in the court of Tillia-Kari mosque in Samarkand, present-day Uzbekistan, ca. 1910

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Molding of an artistic casting (Kasli Iron Works), 1910. From the album “Views in the Ural Mountains, survey of industrial area, Russian Empire”

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A woman is seated in a calm spot on the Sim River, part of the Volga watershed in 1910

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General view of Artvin (now in Turkey) from the small town of Svet, ca. 1910

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