Early Color Photos of Russia

I don’t know about you, but I always tend to think about the world prior World War II as being in black and white. Buildings, landscapes and clothing only came in two flavors: light and dark. That’s why it’s so stunning to come across early color photos that show a world every bit a brilliant as our own. These were shot in Czarist Russia just prior to World War I by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, who traveled the huge Russian Empire from one end to the other documenting its art, architecture, geography and people. One interesting aspect of his work is the surprising ethnic diversity of the Russian Empire of the time.

Prokudin-Gorskii used an ingenious process to capture the images in color that involved photographing his subjects three times in rapid succession through different-colored filters. They were meant to be displayed by a projector using similar filters.

The not-exactly true color images that resulted often had an amazing fairy tale quality.

You can browse Prokudin-Gorskii’s work and learn more about him and his photographic process at the Library of Congress.


Privateer, grenadier, raconteur. In the midwestiest place on earth.

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4 thoughts on “Early Color Photos of Russia

  1. Seeing color photos at a time when you wouldn’t think that such a thing existed, feels weirdly like time travel. Like when you see video recordings of famous people in history, at a time that you thought only photographs existed. It’s surreal

  2. Nick says:

    Cool. I feel the same way about WWII movie footage. Seeing the color Pacific Campaign footage is always jarring.

  3. We had a book of color photos from WWII in my high school library. Once people discovered that it existed, it became the most popular book in the library. It felt like time travel.

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