Imperial Russia in colour: exotic lands

In the early 1900s, Russian photographer Sergei Produkin-Gorskii decided to take a photographic survey of the Russian Empire and its neighbouring countries. It was an absurdly ambitious scheme which saw him travel thousands of miles over the course of five years, but he managed to get the support of Tsar Nicholas II, who gave him the necessary permits and a special railway carriage fitted out with a dark room. The result was a vivid collection of over 3,000 colour photographs depicting a lost world. Produkin-Gorskii employed the most advanced techniques available in order to create this wonderful collection. He used a special camera to capture three black and white images in quick succession, using red, green and blue filters which allowed the images to later be recombined and projected with filtered lanterns to create near true colour photographs. Thanks to the American Library of Congress, which purchased the glass slides in 1945, thousands of the images are freely available online. I have picked out around a hundred of the best images and sorted them into three different categories, each of which is the subject of a different post.


The theme of this post is ‘exotic lands’. Produkin-Gorskii travelled beyond the fertile plains, steppes and taiga of Russia, into Armenia, northern China, Central Asia and what was then Samarkand. This throws up pictures seemingly from a different world, where turbaned mullahs sit in mosques, water-sellers pose in front of mud brick buildings, and nomads wander the steppe in search of new pasture.
Sart woman
Sart woman, Samarkand (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
melon vendor
Melon vendor, Samarkand (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
street scene
Street scene with vendors, minaret in background (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
General view of Artvin from the small town of Svet. Caucasus Mountains (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
water carrier
Water carrier, Samarkand (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
armenian woman
Armenian woman in national costume (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
In the court of Tillia-Kari Mosque, Samarkand (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
greek women
Greek women harvesting tea at Chakra (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
woman in front of a yurt
Woman in front of a yurt; possibly of Turkman or Kirghiz origin (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
dagestani types
Dagestani types (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
fabric merchant
Fabric merchant, Samarkand. His wares include carpets and fabrics of silk, cotton and wool. A framed picture of the Koran hangs above the stall. Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
sand dunes
Dunes (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
georgian woan
Georgian woman (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
jewish children
Jewish children with their teacher in Samarkand (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/wikipedia)
At the Saliuktin mines, on the outskirts of Samarkand (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
karagach tree
Karagach tree, Samarkand (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
dagestani types 2
Dagestani types (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
hookah pipe
Man with hookah pipe (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/wikipedia)
nomadic kiegiz
Nomadic Kirghiz, Golodnaia Steppe (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LCO)
Stork’s nest on a mosque in Bukhara (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/wikipedia)
tea factory
Tea factory in Chakva. Chinese foreman Lau-Dzhen-Dzhau (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/wikipedia)
Man with camel loaded with sacks (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)

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