with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Russia from the turn of the century in color

The blog, Damn Interesting, offers “Color Photos From the World War I Era”, a fascinating look back in time to some of the first color photographs preserved for all time.

Color film was non-existent in 1909 Russia, yet in that year a photographer named Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii embarked on a photographic survey of his homeland and captured hundreds of photos in full, vivid color. His photographic plates were black and white, but he had developed an ingenious photographic technique which allowed him to use them to produce accurate color images.

He accomplished this with a clever camera of his own design, which took three black and white photos of a scene in rapid sequence, each though a differently colored filter. His photographic plates were long and slender, capturing all three images onto the same plate, resulting in three monochrome images which each had certain color information filtered out.

Sergei was then able to use a special image projector to project the three images onto a screen, each directly overlapping the others, and each through the appropriately colored filter. The recombined projection was a full-color representation of the original scene. Emir of BukharaEach three-image series captured by the camera stored all of the color information onto the black and white plates; all they lacked was actual tint, which the color filters on the projector restored.

This step back in time explains how the Tsar was so enthralled with the idea of photographing the Russian Empire, money, supplies, and a specially equipped railroad car with onboard darkroom was supplied as Sergei traveled all over Russia from 1909 to 1915, photographing the great landmarks and preserving for all time a view of historic Russia rarely seen today.

Only today with modern technology can these images be restored and combined into their full original colors. According to the article, “The U.S. Library of Congress purchased all of Sergei’s original glass negatives from his heirs in 1948, and in 2001 a beautiful exhibition was produced to showcase Sergei’s photos, called The Empire that was Russia.”

Step back in time to learn more about this determined photographer and his mission to preserve Russia in color.

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