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Collection Prokudin-Gorskii Collection

About this Collection

Features color photographic surveys of the vast Russian Empire made between ca. 1905 and 1915. Frequent subjects among the 2,607 distinct images include people, religious architecture, historic sites, industry and agriculture, public works construction, scenes along water and railway transportation routes, and views of villages and cities. An active photographer and scientist, Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944) undertook most of his ambitious color documentary project from 1909 to 1915. The Library of Congress purchased the collection from the photographer's sons in 1948.

The online collection presents Prokudin-Gorskii's vision and legacy in several image formats:

  • Glass negatives: 1,902 b&w triple-frame images made with color separation filters
  • Sepia-tone prints: 705 photos for which no glass negatives exist (reproduced from Prokudin-Gorskii's albums)
  • Album pages showing all 2,433 sepia-tone prints and captions
  • Modern color composites: 1,902 digital images made from the glass negatives in 2004
  • Modern color renderings: 1,380 digital files made from the glass negatives in 2000-2001 and 2005-2022.

Background and Scope

Night camp by a rock on the bank of the Chusovaia
Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii and others seated at a campsite.

LC-DIG-ppmsc-04445 Using emerging technological advances in color photography, Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944) made numerous photographic trips to systematically document the Russian Empire. He conducted most of his visual surveys between 1909 and 1915, although some of his work dates as early as 1905. The Empire at this time stretched 7,000 miles from west to east and 3,000 miles from north to south and comprised one-sixth of the earth's land mass. It was the largest empire in history and spanned what today are eleven different times zones.

Tsar Nicholas II supported this ambitious project by providing passes and transportation: by rail, boat and automobile. Each journey made by Prokudin-Gorskii is represented by a photographic album and corresponding negatives. There is also an album of various studies, including views in Europe.

Prokudin-Gorskii's photographs show:

  • sacred architecture and associated shrines of note (churches, cathedrals, monasteries, and mosques)
  • liturgical and secular objects of historic significance (vestments, icons, reliquaries, and other objects relating to saints, previous Tsars, and the Napoleonic War)
  • public works (the engineering, construction, and use of railroads, bridges, dams, canals, locks, and roads)
  • industry (iron, gold, and copper mining; production of cotton and silverware; professions as varied as shepherds and street vendors)
  • agriculture (tea plantations and farming activities such as planting and haying)
  • people, often posed in traditional clothing
  • views of cities, villages, waterfronts, landscapes, and flowering plants.

Image Formats

The online collection presents Prokudin-Gorskii's vision and legacy in several formats; each distinct image is represented by one or more digital reproductions. [ Retrieve examples showing both negatives and prints]

  • Glass negatives (24x9 cm.): Prokudin-Gorskii's unusual triple-frame black-and-white negatives consist of three exposures made through blue, green, and red filters to produce photographs that could be printed or projected in color, usually for magic lantern slide shows. All 1,902 triple-frame glass negatives in the collection have been digitized, including about 150 that did not appear as prints in Prokudin-Gorskii's albums. All have been reproduced to show the full three frames. Single-frame views (usually the green-filtered center section) are also provided for ready enlargement of details. [Retrieve all glass negatives]
  • Album prints (8x8 cm.) without existing glass negatives: There are 705 album prints for which no glass negatives exist. In those cases, the album print was digitized. These images can be quickly identified by their sepia tone in the online displays. The prints were made from the red-filtered (bottom frame) of each negative. [Retrieve all album prints without existing negatives]
  • Albums (27x41 cm.): The Library has twelve albums (in fourteen volumes) that Prokudin-Gorskii compiled as visual notebooks for his travels and studies. Digitized album pages allow modern armchair travelers to follow the same routes that Prokudin-Gorskii took almost one hundred years ago, enabling viewing of the materials in the sequence that he intended. The pages show all 2,433 contact prints contained in the albums, along with their Cyrillic captions and annotations. There are usually six prints on each page. Some spaces are blank where prints were removed long ago. Each distinct image can be displayed for further information about the item (the corresponding negative will display, if the Library has the negative). Conversely, special links lead from individual images to the album page on which the corresponding print appears, to provide the subject context. [Retrieve all albums]
  • Color composites: All of the negatives have been digitally produced in color using a software algorithm (see "Color Photography Method").
  • Color renderings: 1,380 negatives have been digitally rendered in color using photo editing software (see "Color Photography Method"). [Retrieve all color renderings]

Chronological Summary of the Trips and Albums

Note: Links retrieve the bibliographic record for the album, with its associated digitized album pages.

  • Various Views and Studies, 1905-1915 [ LOT 10333]
    Prokudin-Gorskii traveled to Italy, Finland, and IAsnaia Poliana in Russia to photograph various subjects of interest and note, including Leo Tolstoy. This travel was most likely completed prior to embarking on his ambitious project to document the Russian Empire. (135 prints)
  • Caucasus and Black Sea, 1905-1915 [ LOT 10336]
    Prokudin-Gorskii traveled to the Caucasus and completed a survey in the region along the Black Sea and around or in Artvin and Tiflis, which are present day Turkey, Georgia, Russia and Azerbaijan. (256 prints)
  • Central Asia, 1905-1915 [ LOT 10338]
    In 1911, Prokudin-Gorskii traveled to Samarkand to photograph Turkestan and Afghanistan (present day Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan). (237 prints)
  • Mariinskii Canal System, 1909 [ LOT 10332-A and LOT 10332-B]
    In the summer of 1909, Prokudin-Gorskii traveled west to east along the Mariinskii canal system (later named the Volga-Baltic Waterway). The 272 prints fill two albums.
  • Ural Mountains, Survey of Industrial Areas, 1910 [ LOT 10335-A and LOT 10335-B]
    In 1910, Prokudin-Gorskii completed two trips through the industrial areas of the Ural Mountains, the first one beginning in Perm, from which he headed southeast, then west, ending in Minyar. The second album covers Minyar and his travels northeast to Cherdyn. (414 prints)
  • Volga River, Upper Region - From Its Source to Kalyazin, 1910 [ LOT 10339]
    Prokudin-Gorskii journeyed along the Upper Volga in 1910, on a boat supplied and navigated by the Ministry of Transportation, beginning at the source of the Volga through Kalyazin. (139 prints)
  • Volga River, Upper Region - From Kashin to Makarev, 1910 [ LOT 10340]
    Prokudin-Gorskii continued his documentation of the Volga Region when he journeyed along the Upper Volga in 1910 from Kashin to Makarev. (237 prints)
  • Volga River, Upper Region between Yaroslavl, Vladimir, and Kostroma, 1911 [ LOT 10341]
    Prokudin-Gorskii documented the tributaries of the Volga Region from Kostroma to Rostov Velikii. (227 prints)
  • Napoleonic campaign Areas from the 1812 Franco-Russian War, 1911-1912 [ LOT 10337]
    In 1911 and 1912, Prokudin-Gorskii traveled a loop starting at Mozhaisk, west of Moscow, and ended in Malo-Iaroslavets. (141 prints)
  • Ural Mountains and Western Siberia, survey of waterways, 1912 [ LOT 10342]
    In 1912, Prokudin-Gorskii journeyed up the Kamsko-Tobol'skii Water Route in western Siberia, beginning just outside Perm through the environs of Ekaterinburg, where he proceeded northeast to Tobolsk. (168 prints)
  • Oka River and Suzdal, 1912 [ LOT 10343]
    In 1912, Prokudin-Gorskii traveled along the Oka River south of Moscow from Dednovo to Suzdal. (64 prints)
  • Murmansk Railway, 1915 [ LOT 10334]
    Prokudin-Gorskii documented the Murmansk Rail System in 1915, traveling north from Lodeinoe Pole to Kem. (143 prints)