Imperial Russia in colour: mountains, forests and lakes

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. The photographs would be interesting enough in black and white, but the fact that they are in colour makes them truly fascinating. However often we remind ourselves that life in the past was lived in colour just as now, it’s very hard to actually internalise that. This is why these photographs are so incredible; it is difficult to believe that we are actually looking back 100 years in time, when many of the landscape shots look as if they could have been taken just yesterday. These images help us to re-imagine the past.

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 four different categories, each of which will be the subject of a different post.The theme of this post is landscapes. Produkin-Gorskii had an eye for the beautiful and the unusual, with the result that his landscape photography is fascinating and diverse, showcasing all the different landscapes of Russia and beyond. Here is a small selection of photographs which are stunning in their intricate detail and vivid colours.

Sunset in Gagra, on the Black Sea (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Sunset in Gagra, on the Black Sea (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)

Self portrait on the Karolitskhali River
Self portrait on the Karolitskhali River
On the seashore at Uzurgety (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
On the seashore at Uzurgety (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Study of Chertovo Gorodishche (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Study of Chertovo Gorodishche (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Railroad tracks through desert dunes, Central Asia (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Railroad tracks through desert dunes, Central Asia (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Sleeping dog at Lindozero (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Sleeping dog at Lindozero (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Field of poppies (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Field of poppies (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Bird cherry tress (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Bird cherry tress (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Drying nets on Lake Seliger (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Drying nets on Lake Seliger (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
General view of Artvin from the small town of Svet. Caucasus (Produkin-Gorskii Collectrion/LOC)
General view of Artvin from the small town of Svet. Caucasus (Produkin-Gorskii Collectrion/LOC)
Trans-Siberian Railway metal truss bridge on stone piers, over the Kama river near Perm, Ural Mountains (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Trans-Siberian Railway metal truss bridge on stone piers, over the Kama river near Perm, Ural Mountains (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Peasant women sitting by a lake (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Peasant women sitting by a lake (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Mills in the Ialutorovsk district of Tobolsk Province (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Mills in the Ialutorovsk district of Tobolsk Province (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Washing brown iron ore at the Shilovskii mine seven versts from the village of Makarovo
Washing brown iron ore at the Shilovskii mine, near the village of Makaravo (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Rice fields in Samarkand
Rice fields in Samarkand

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