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

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)
artvin
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)
tillia-kari
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)
mines
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)
bukhara
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)
camel
Man with camel loaded with sacks (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)

Imperial Russia in colour: peasants and elites

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 three different categories, each of which will be the subject of a different post. The theme of this post is ‘peasants and elites’. I have aimed to highlight the rigid social hierarchy of late imperial Russia where peasants lived in rural squalour doing back-breaking work for their feudal masters, whilst the Orthodox church with its gilded buildings was steeped in money and privilege, and the high nobility were dancing the latest Austrian waltzes in their fantastically opulent palaces.
Bashkir woman in folk costume (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Bashkir woman in folk costume (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Isfandiyar, the penultimate Khan of the Russian Protectorate of Khiva (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Isfandiyar, the penultimate Khan of the Russian Protectorate of Khiva (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
At harvest time (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
At harvest time (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Monument to Emperor Peter the Great in Lodeinoe Pole (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Monument to Emperor Peter the Great in Lodeinoe Pole (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Boy leaning against a wooden gate at sunset (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Boy leaning against a wooden gate at sunset (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Peasant girls with bowls of fruit, in a rural area along the Sheksna river (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/wikipedia)
Peasant girls with bowls of fruit, in a rural area along the Sheksna river (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/wikipedia)
The Kharitonov Palace in Ektarinenburg, late 18th century (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
The Kharitonov Palace in Ektarinenburg, late 18th century (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Woman breaking flax, Perm province (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/wikipedia)
Woman breaking flax, Perm province (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/wikipedia)
Prisoners in shackles (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Prisoners in shackles (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Evgeniev spring at Borzhom, a resort town in present-day Georgia (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/wikipedia)
Evgeniev spring at Borzhom, a resort town in present-day Georgia (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/wikipedia)
Tajik man, Samarkand (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/wikipedia)
Tajik man, Samarkand (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/wikipedia)
Monastery of St. Nil, Lake Seliger, Tver Province (Produkin -Gorskii Collection/wikipedia)
Monastery of St. Nil, Lake Seliger, Tver Province (Produkin -Gorskii Collection/wikipedia)
Miraculous icon in the church of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, Smolensk (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/wikipedia)
Miraculous icon in the church of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, Smolensk (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/wikipedia)
Settler family in settlement of Grafovka (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Settler family in settlement of Grafovka (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Palace in the village of Borodino (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Palace in the village of Borodino (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Orphans in the snow (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Orphans in the snow (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Leo Tolstoy in 1908 (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/wikipedia)
Leo Tolstoy in 1908 (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/wikipedia)
Harvest time (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Harvest time (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Mohammed Alim Khan, the last Emir of Bukhara (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Mohammed Alim Khan, the last Emir of Bukhara (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Shepherd in Samarkand (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)
Shepherd in Samarkand (Produkin-Gorskii Collection/LOC)

Kolmanskop, a Namibian ghost town

Part of Kolmanskop, a ruined town in the Namib desert. ©Harald Süpfle
Part of Kolmanskop, a ruined town in the Namib desert. ©Harald Süpfle

The Namib desert in Namibia is a barren wasteland. The coastal edge of the desert in which the ruined town of Kolmanskop is located is particularly dry, receiving less than 50mm of rain a year. It seems an unlikely area for permanent settlement, yet a century ago Kolmanskop was a flourishing mining town. The town came into being just over a hundred years ago, when a labourer stumbled upon evidence of diamond deposits in the area. He showed his supervisor, who in turn informed the German government of this new source of potential revenue. The government subsequently declared the area a Sperrgebiet (a restricted area) to be devoted to diamond mining.

Lured by the promise of wealth, hundreds of German settlers and even more native Namibian workers moved to the area, establishing the town of Kolmanskop. The new German inhabitants built the town in a European style which looks highly incongruous in the desert landscape. Kolmanskop featured grand houses along with recreational centres such as a ballroom, a casino, a theatre, a gymnasium and a bowling alley. Public institutions and infrastructure included a power station, a school, a hospital with the first x-ray in the southern hemisphere, and the first tram in Africa.

Some of the European-style houses built for the German settlers. ©Bgabel
Some of the European-style houses built for the German settlers. ©Bgabel
The accountant's house. ©Harald Süpfle
The accountant’s house. ©Harald Süpfle
Kolmanskop featured a beautiful ballroom. ©Harald Süpfle
Kolmanskop featured a beautiful ballroom. ©Harald Süpfle
The town also boasted a bowling alley. ©Joachim Huber
The town also boasted a bowling alley. ©Joachim Huber

The boom was, however, short-lived. Kolmanskop declined after World War One as the price of diamonds started to drop and richer diamond deposits were found further south. The town was ultimately abandoned in 1954. Since then, the ruined settlement has been a magnet for tourists, filmmakers and photographers. In 1980, the de Beers diamond company set up a museum to preserve the ballroom and bowling alley and to recreate several domestic interiors which show how the German settlers lived. The Namibian government is eager to exploit this attraction, as tourism accounts for 14.5% of the national GDP. Yet in spite of the conservation efforts, the Namib desert is gradually swallowing up the town, and one day it will be a forgotten marvel only to be seen in photographs.

©Damien du Toit
©Damien du Toit
©SqueakyMarmot / Mike, Vancouver, Canada. Flickr
©SqueakyMarmot / Mike, Vancouver, Canada. Flickr