A New Cornucopia of Old Color Photos from Russia

A collection of fabulous color photos of Czarist Russia was publicized a couple of years ago.

Now there’s a new exhibition of the same photographer’s images, including thousands of photos that were not previously shown.

These photos are well worth looking at. The photographer was sponsored by the Czarist government and recorded many scenes of great interest. He produced his images using a photographic process that, while cumbersome, yields excellent color.

(IIRC I blogged about these photos a year or two ago, but I can’t locate the post.)


Newly restored images.

Earlier exhibit.

Technical details.

UPDATE: From John Robinson comes this tutorial on how to assemble the color images from the B&W originals, and some interesting thoughts:

Perhaps one of the reasons for Prokudin-Gorskii’s rediscovery in the present time period is the fact that it is now possible, with computers, to make these into marvelous color depictions that were impossible with the technology of Prokudin-Gorskii’s day (printing the images, for example, was out of the question). This might, additionally, be an indication of the man’s being born well ahead of his time.

18 thoughts on “A New Cornucopia of Old Color Photos from Russia”

  1. Yeah. Each color image is based on three separate B&W images, each one made through a different color (RGB) filter. Apparently it’s a lot of work to align the B&W images. The guy who produced the new photo display used automated software to align the B&W images which he downloaded from the Library of Congress. Because the file size of each set of 3 B&W images is 70MB at full resolution, he used lower-res versions. I suspect it would not be difficult, using Photoshop and perhaps stitching software (as for producing panoramas), to restore individual photos at full size. It would be time-consuming, however. Perhaps this new set of images is therefore best seen as thumbnails to select the most interesting examples for hi-res restoration.

  2. I had my online avatar made from one of the pictures, 3 years ago.

    It’s surprising, really, how come there are still no voices from “outraged public” in Russia demanding back the national treasure. Anything that can be construed as “Imperial Russian grandeur” now is in vogue.

  3. From the limited online info that I read, it appears that the photographer fled Russia in 1918; Russian border guards confiscated some of his negatives based on political criteria; Library of Congress much later purchased remaining negatives from his family. Who would Putin complain to? Devilish American govt is now promoting Imperial Russian Grandeur by making the photos available to everyone.

  4. Devilish British government is promoting Egyptian mummies by displaying them in a museum. Devilish Yale (those Americans, again!) dares to work on Peruvian artefacts – and they demand them back; no matter that locals have no intention to continue scientific research on them.

    You can’t be so naive as to apply universal criteria of law and order to Russia. This is the state that defaulted, in 1918, on its obligations to the Allies on pretext that guarantees were extended by Czarist government.

  5. This is also the state that invited Henry Ford in and then nationalized his factories. Most Russians see life as a zero sum game – it’s an artifact of serfdom.

  6. Exactly right, JJ. Although, as I showed above, this attitude is not limited to Russia (it might have originated there, though…) Peruvians’s argument, for example is that legal permission for removal received by Americans was given by a negligent and corrupt government; now they’re real patriots and bent on pursuing their national interests.
    You know, as usual.

  7. In every one of these cases it seems most likely that the artifacts would have been destroyed, stolen or allowed to decay if they had been left in situ.

  8. You’re right that it’s a time-consuming process, Jonathan, usually takes a few hours to get it right. I’ve put up a tutorial here on how to assemble these if anyone’s interested.

  9. “In every one of these cases it seems most likely that the artifacts would have been destroyed, stolen or allowed to decay if they had been left in situ.”

    As is the case with the 40 boxcars of artifacts that Chiang et al. took from China – they would have been destroyed in the Cultural Revolution. It’s sad to go to Beijing and see all the empty buildings, but when you see the peasants expectorating on the walls of the Summer Palace because of a lack of respect inculcated from an education under the Communists (and also, as my wife says, because they are just gross, but take that Taiwanese critcism with a grain of salt), you begin to thank the GMD for despoiling (and hence protecting) China’s history.

  10. JJ, these are two different cases. Spoils of war, etc is not the same as bringing something from a country with all legal, official papers/permits in order. Having to pay customs to legal government. Having an official stamp on the invoice.

  11. Tatyana – I was thinking that the CCP also complains to the West about things that were taken after the Boxer rebellion, also spoils of war in a way. Chinese history is the richer for that, too. That’s probably closest to the Egyptian / British case because the Egyptians were also in no way capable of telling the British Egyptologists “no” when they wanted to export stuff.

  12. What do you mean they were “not capable saying no”? Weakness of government regulations/economy/dependency on goreigners is irrelevant; if permission was granted officially, I don’t think it’s fair for subsequent government to question its predesessor’s decision and take back their permission.
    На рынке два дурака -один продаёт, другой покупает.
    What’s sold is sold, period.

  13. Eeeee – I guess. The Brits gave the Egyptians an offer they could not refuse, being in de facto political control of the entire area. I see what you are saying, but I also see where reasonable people could disagree. Where I think we agree is that most of the whiners is this regard are so far removed from our definition of “reasonable people” that they can’t see it with a telescope.

    My point is that those societies would have destroyed their own heritage, so crying about foreigners despoiling their treasures is a lot like a little kid crying because the parents keep the family heirloom that was willed to the kid by Grandpa in safekeeping until the kid is old enough and mature enough not to pawn it for beer money.

    Most of the societies doing the whinging have not proven their trustworthiness (nor do they have the infrastructure to conduct proper studies of the artifacts) yet.

  14. Well, if they had destroyed their own heritage, too bad. The world is full of destroyed history. It’s their right to make what they want of their property. But once they sold it, under pressure or not, and got something in return – something they valued at the time – it’s out of their hands.

  15. Ancient Egypt is not the “heritage” of what we now call Egypt. The “Egypt” that lost that stuff was Arab, Muslim, impoverished, inept, corrupt government and population of Egypt in the mid-19th century — it had nothing to do with the Egyptians of the Pharaonic ages other than happenstance of geography. The heritage of ancient Egypt belongs to humanity in general. The fact that British and other foreigners were able to go in and take it and preserve it is an unalloyed good for the world, and tough luck for the “Egyptians” of the modern age. Whether they paid the locals for it doesn’t matter. Same thing with the Elgin Marbles. The Greeks of the 1820s, who had been ruled by the Turks for five centuries, and were likely not even the genetic heirs of the Greeks of 2,200 centuries earlier, had no “right” to that stuff either. All in all, the entire world is better off with that stuff being in London in the care of professional and competent curators. Pretending that these communities are capable of caring for this priceless material is a politically correct gesture with no foundation in fact.

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