The Empire Moves West

Hello, fellow Soviet History classmates and everyone else on the internet. For our first blog entry we were given a common topic, ‘The Empire That Was Russia’, but in the unique context of the 1907-1915 photograph collection of the talented Sergei Mikailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. The most interesting aspect of Gorskii’s collection is probably the most obvious; it appears in color. Gorskii was certainly not the first photographer to use a technique involving a black and white negative and red, blue, and green filters, but there is a certain poetic feeling that they offer to a land that had undergone a massive reform and distinct modernization. This color photo technique offers a full (and especially vibrant) color view of the people and places in the time following the industrial social change that defined the Nineteenth Century Russian Empire and proceeding revolutionary social change that defined the Twentieth Century Soviet Union.

I have chosen a picture from Gorskii’s collection on people at work entitled, Three Generations.


This picture is from 1910, and the man on the left is A. P. Kalganov. The man to his left is his son and the woman on the right is his granddaughter. The photo was taken in the industrial town of Zlatoust. In my opinion, this photo embodies the significant changes that took place in the Russian Empire during the Nineteenth Century.  A dominant theme present in Russian history is its relationship with the West. The Russian people entered the 1800s as agrarian people living with a legal class system. This meant that some people were nobles by law and some people were serfs (slaves) by law, and there was no way to move into a higher social class. During the Crimean War, Russia performed disastrously, and left the autocratic tsars that ruled following the war with no real choice but to modernize in a way similar to the Industrial Revolution of the West and to emancipate the serfs. This photo was taken decades following those significant changes and the impact is clear in each of the three generations represented. The grandfather, Kalganov, is dressed in traditional Russian clothing that was common in the mid-Nineteenth Century. His son and granddaughter are dressed in more modern and Western styles. His son and granddaughter BOTH work at the Zlatoust Arms Plant, meaning not only do the dress modern, but their social system is modern as well. This picture helps us to see visual effects of the modernizing changes that took place proceeding it and also shows us a move to Westernization as well.

Now, an important conclusion from this: During the Nineteenth Century, the Russian Empire did experience changes such as industrialization, and serf emancipation, but one change that they did not experience was an end to autocratic leadership. While the Empire had moved to some Western practices, not ending the autocracy or loosening it allowed for the changes that would take place less than a decade after this photograph was taken.

The image found in this entry and background information on its subject was retrieved from:

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. Three Generations, 1910. Digital color rendering. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-03952 (24)

Information about the town of Zlatoust (where the photo was taken) was found here:

Finally, background information was taken from my notes taken during lecture based on the readings in our text, Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.