Russia's Photo-Archivist, Prokudin-Gorsky

October 21, 2015

Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky was born on his family's ancestral estate east of Moscow. They eventually moved to St. Petersburg where Gorsky enrolled in the State Institute of Technology to study chemistry. Photography would prove the perfect medium for the scientist with an artist's aptitude, Gorsky had also studied painting and music at the Imperial Academy of Arts.

Grosky studied photography with an insatiable ambition - he learned all the most modern technics of colour chemistry - travelling to Berlin and returning to inform Russia's finest society of photography (IRTS). But it was after Gorsky was an established professional - the editor of Russia's most popular photography magazine, and President of IRTS - that he caught the eye of Tsar Nicholas II in 1909. Gorsky was given a commission to travel across Russia and document her glory. The project would take 10 years and compromise 10,000 photos, Gorsky considered this his life's work and continued up to the revolution, at which point he was forced to emigrate.

While leaving Russia in 1918, more than half of Gorsky's negatives were confiscated, they had been deemed sensitive material for wartime Russia. His subjects included everything from churches, mountains, peasants, to war prisoners, the breath of his project was truly remarkable. In 1948 the Library of Congress bought the remaining negatives from Gorsky's heirs, and today they tour the world as an exhibit of the eve of the Russian Empire.

What is perhaps most remarkable is that Gorsky's photos are all originally in colour. He pioneered a three exposure technique, one taken through a red filter, one through a green filter, and one through a yellow filter, these three exposures would then be combined into one fully colour image. The process, though extraordinarily labour intensive, was amazingly accurate. 

Gorskii posing near a mountain stream near the Black Sea:

Example of Gorsky's triple exposure technique, and the resulting full colour image:

Here is a selection of Gorsky's 1100+ images that have survived the years and remain in the collection at The Library of Congress.



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