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Documenting The Russian Empire


Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky poses near a mountain stream in the Caucasus. - At the start of the 20th century, photographer Prokudin-Gorsky won the support of Tsar Nicholas II to conduct an ambitious photographic survey of the Russian Empire.
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Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky poses near a mountain stream in the Caucasus. - At the start of the 20th century, photographer Prokudin-Gorsky won the support of Tsar Nicholas II to conduct an ambitious photographic survey of the Russian Empire.

Ethnic Russian settlers in the Mugan Steppe region, south of the Caucasus mountains and west of the Caspian Sea - Between 1907 and 1915, Prokudin-Gorsky traveled through the Russian Empire in a railroad car equipped with a darkroom, recording aspects of Russia’s diverse culture. Here, he photographed settlers who were encouraged by official government policy to populate border regions, including the Caucasus and Russia's Far East.
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Ethnic Russian settlers in the Mugan Steppe region, south of the Caucasus mountains and west of the Caspian Sea - Between 1907 and 1915, Prokudin-Gorsky traveled through the Russian Empire in a railroad car equipped with a darkroom, recording aspects of Russia’s diverse culture. Here, he photographed settlers who were encouraged by official government policy to populate border regions, including the Caucasus and Russia's Far East.

A couple in traditional dress poses for a portrait in what is now the Republic of Daghestan. - Prokudin-Gorsky developed and patented his own color film process, and hoped to use his photographs to help educate Russian schoolchildren with his “optical color projections.”
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A couple in traditional dress poses for a portrait in what is now the Republic of Daghestan. - Prokudin-Gorsky developed and patented his own color film process, and hoped to use his photographs to help educate Russian schoolchildren with his “optical color projections.”

The emir of Bukhara, Alim Khan, in 1911 - The photographer took a portrait of the emir of Bukhara, the ruler of an autonomous city-state in Central Asia. With the establishment of Soviet power in Bukhara in 1920, the emir fled to Afghanistan, where he lived until his death in 1944.
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The emir of Bukhara, Alim Khan, in 1911 - The photographer took a portrait of the emir of Bukhara, the ruler of an autonomous city-state in Central Asia. With the establishment of Soviet power in Bukhara in 1920, the emir fled to Afghanistan, where he lived until his death in 1944.

A.P. Kalganov with his son and granddaughter in the industrial town of Zlatoust in the Urals - In this portrait of three generations, the grandfather wears traditional Russian dress, while his son and granddaughter, both employees of a local armaments factory, display more modern, Westernized dress and hairstyles.
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A.P. Kalganov with his son and granddaughter in the industrial town of Zlatoust in the Urals - In this portrait of three generations, the grandfather wears traditional Russian dress, while his son and granddaughter, both employees of a local armaments factory, display more modern, Westernized dress and hairstyles.

Prokudin-Gorsky and others ride the Murmansk Railroad in a handcar along the shores of Lake Onega in 1915. - Prokudin-Gorsky photographed railroad bridges, locomotives, barges, steamers, and canals, emphasizing technological achievements and the importance of the transportation system tying together the vast Russian Empire.
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Prokudin-Gorsky and others ride the Murmansk Railroad in a handcar along the shores of Lake Onega in 1915. - Prokudin-Gorsky photographed railroad bridges, locomotives, barges, steamers, and canals, emphasizing technological achievements and the importance of the transportation system tying together the vast Russian Empire.

A Turkmen camel driver rests with his camel, most likely carrying grain or cotton. - Camel caravans remained the most common means of transporting food, raw materials, and manufactured goods in Central Asia well into the railroad era.
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A Turkmen camel driver rests with his camel, most likely carrying grain or cotton. - Camel caravans remained the most common means of transporting food, raw materials, and manufactured goods in Central Asia well into the railroad era.

The Kasli Iron Works in the Urals, between Yekaterinburg and Chelyabinsk, employed some 3,000 people in 1910. - Russia witnessed rapid industrial development in the decade before World War I, largely driven by foreign investment and the import of technology from Western Europe. Prokudin-Gorsky documented the country’s economic life from textile and chemical factories to the harvesting of cotton, tea, and grain.
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The Kasli Iron Works in the Urals, between Yekaterinburg and Chelyabinsk, employed some 3,000 people in 1910. - Russia witnessed rapid industrial development in the decade before World War I, largely driven by foreign investment and the import of technology from Western Europe. Prokudin-Gorsky documented the country’s economic life from textile and chemical factories to the harvesting of cotton, tea, and grain.

Workers and supervisors pause while preparing to pour the cement foundations of a dam on the Oka River.
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Workers and supervisors pause while preparing to pour the cement foundations of a dam on the Oka River.

An old man, probably an ethnic Tajik, holds birds he has just caught near Samarkand, in present-day Uzbekistan. - Nevertheless, large parts of the empire remained untouched by industrial advances, and economic conditions in many places worsened during World War I.
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An old man, probably an ethnic Tajik, holds birds he has just caught near Samarkand, in present-day Uzbekistan. - Nevertheless, large parts of the empire remained untouched by industrial advances, and economic conditions in many places worsened during World War I.

Inmates of a zindan -- a Central Asian prison -- are guarded by a man with a Russian-style uniform and boots.
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Inmates of a zindan -- a Central Asian prison -- are guarded by a man with a Russian-style uniform and boots.

The Nilov Monastery on an island in Lake Seliger in Tver Province, northwest of Moscow. - Of the numerous churches, monasteries, mosques, and Islamic schools photographed by Prokudin-Gorsky, many did not survive the world wars and the Soviet era. This monastery was used for various secular purposes during Soviet times, but was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1990 and is once again a functioning monastic community.
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The Nilov Monastery on an island in Lake Seliger in Tver Province, northwest of Moscow. - Of the numerous churches, monasteries, mosques, and Islamic schools photographed by Prokudin-Gorsky, many did not survive the world wars and the Soviet era. This monastery was used for various secular purposes during Soviet times, but was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1990 and is once again a functioning monastic community.

Jewish children study with their teacher in Samarkand, home to a religiously diverse population.
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Jewish children study with their teacher in Samarkand, home to a religiously diverse population.

An Uzbek woman in traditional dress stands in front of her yurt. - Prokudin-Gorsky left Russia for Norway in 1918 after the revolution brought down the empire he had documented. Prokudin-Gorsky’s original work is now housed by the U.S. Library of Congress, which purchased the original glass-plate negatives from his heirs in 1948.
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An Uzbek woman in traditional dress stands in front of her yurt. - Prokudin-Gorsky left Russia for Norway in 1918 after the revolution brought down the empire he had documented. Prokudin-Gorsky’s original work is now housed by the U.S. Library of Congress, which purchased the original glass-plate negatives from his heirs in 1948.

Young Russian women offer berries to visitors outside their izba, a traditional wooden house, near the Sheksna River. - Photos and caption information courtesy of the Library of Congress.
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Young Russian women offer berries to visitors outside their izba, a traditional wooden house, near the Sheksna River. - Photos and caption information courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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