Jessica Helfand

The Russian Empire, Before Photoshop

A group of women in Dagestan, Russia, circa 1910

Born in St. Petersburg in 1863 and educated as a chemist, Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii studied with renowned scientists in St. Petersburg, Berlin and Paris before embarking on his own technical research — an ingenious photographic system that used red, green and blue filters in various combinations to render breathtakingly vivid images. With the support of Tsar Nicholas II (and in possession of permits that granted him access to restricted areas) Prokudin-Gorskii documented the Russian Empire from 1907 through 1915. He later settled in Paris where he died in 1944.

The Library of Congress purchased the collection of glass negatives in 1948, and you can see a selection of them here. They are nothing short of extraordinary.

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