Pictures of a vanished world

Self-portrait of Sergey Prokudin-Gorky

Self-portrait of Sergey Prokudin-Gorky

Sergey Mikhaylovich Prokudin-Gorky was a Russian pioneer in color photography who flourished in the early decades of the 20th century.  He received permission from Czar Nicholas II to document the Russian Empire, traveling in a special darkroom mounted on a railroad car.

My friend Jack Clontz called my attention to 30 Rare Color Photographs of the Russian Empire from 100+ Years Ago, which is a sample of Prokudin-Gorky’s work.   The photos give an idea of the size and diversity of old Russia.  Not every subject of the Russian Empire was Russian.

Alim Khan, Emire of Bukhara (1911)

Alim Khan, Emir of Bukhara (1911)

Russian peasant women in traditional dress (1909)

Russian peasant women in traditional dress (1909)

Windmills in Tobolsk province (1912)

Windmills in Tobolsk province (1912)

Dagestani couple in the Caucasus (1904)

Dagestani couple in the Caucasus (1904)

Village in the Ural Mountains

Village in the Ural Mountains (1912)

When I look at old pictures, I try to imagine myself living the lives of the people in them.  They would have lived in a narrower world, with harder labor and more material deprivation than I would have liked.  But maybe they had satisfactions that I and my friends lack.

I wonder what they would have thought of the lives of people today—whether our life would be better or worse from their standpoint.

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