A friend of mine turned me on to this collection of color photographs from the Russian Empire between the 1905 Revolution and the 1917 Revolutions. Most of these were taken between 1907 and 1912, with some taken in 1915, during World War I.
These are all the work of Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, a Russian chemist and photographer who received a commission from Tsar Nicholas II to travel in a specially equipped train car to document the people and places of the empire using his own method for taking color photographs, a method that involved using three cameras to take the shots, and three projectors to show the final prints, each equipped with a red, green or blue filter. Prokudin-Gorskii’s original glass plates are part of the collection of the U.S. Library of Congress. The images available on the web have been digitally processed using a technique described on the Library of Congress website. Most of these images can also be viewed, and more easily scrolled through, on the Boston Globe website. I’ve included a sampling of them below.
Besides providing some stunning pictures of Russia at the beginning of the 20th century, an especially tumultuous time, these images also serve to remind us that the “Russian” Empire was far more an empire than it was Russian. We see the great diversity of the land and people ruled by the Tsars—an area of the globe that stretched from Central Europe to the Pacific Ocean, and from the Arctic Circle to the oasis-and desert-region of southern Central Asia, bordering Afghanistan. Subjects included Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Dagestanis, Bashkirs, Georgians, Tatars, Poles, Armenians, Azeris… And this was essentially the same territory and population that would be governed by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union for nearly three quarters of a century. Ethnic Russians, in fact, held the barest majority as percentage of the population of the U.S.S.R.
See more of these images at- U.S. Library of Congress-The Empire that was Russia, or The Boston Globe-The Big Picture