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On Prokudin-Gorskii

When I first looked through the Prokudin-Gorskii collection, right away I started thinking “how am I ever going to choose one of these for the blog?!”  So instead of choosing just one, I chose a few – and I’m going to analyze Prokudin-Gorskii himself!

As we discussed in class, something all of these images have in common is that they are in color, and the ones I chose have particularly vibrant colors.  For the time period, this was highly uncommon.  While Prokudin-Gorskii was not the creator of this method of color photography (called the three color principle), he did effectively use it to record and document the Russian Empire.

As a photographer myself, I find his work extremely interesting and enjoyed looking at it through the social and economic perspective of late Imperial Russia.  After doing a little research on him, I found that he was born into the Russian nobility.  He graduated from the Institute of Applied Sciences in St. Petersburg, where he studied chemistry, and then traveled to Paris.  He wrote books, taught school, and helped perfect camera designs.

Prokudin-Gorskii’s images of the vast Russian Empire reveal just how vast the social structure of Russia was during this time.  I find it ironic that as a noble, he basically took photographs of those who were exact opposites of him.  While people like Prokudin-Gorskii had access to things like college, the resources to build a camera, money, etc., the people we see in his photographs are the ones who we most often associate with Imperial Russia:  the poor peasants.

It will be interesting to see how this social gap changes and evolves through the course of Russian/Soviet history.  I have an idea on what is going to happen thanks to Dr. Nelson’s Soviet Culture class, but I can’t wait to learn even more about it in this one!


These images are titled (in order): Melon Vendor (1911), Fabric Merchant (1911), A Group of Workers Harvesting Tea (1907-1915), and On the Karolitskhali River (1907-1915)

They were created by: Prokudin-Gorskiĭ, Sergeĭ Mikhaĭlovich, 1863-1944, photographer

The permanent record here: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/prk2000000564/

Biographical information on Prokudin-Gorskii:  http://www.oxfordartonline.com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu:8080/subscriber/article/grove/art/T069807


  1. I’ve always found the “Melon Vendor” compelling. Thank you for providing us some background on this accomplished photographer! What do we make of the diversity of the people featured in the photographs you selected? What sources did you use to learn about Prokudin-Gorsky’s biography?

  2. Kelsey Shober


    This was a great idea for a blog entry. I agree that there are SO MANY different photographs that have great potential to be used. It really is hard to choose just one, and I’m glad that you chose a variety because it really added to your post without overwhelming the reader. Your post really helped me to remember that in works of art, such as photography, it is just as important to know as much about the creator as it is to know about the subject. Information on Gorskii put the way that I viewed some of the photographs in a slightly different light. The information also caused me to wonder what was going through Gorskii’s head as he met with and photographed so many people who lived very differently than he did. Thanks for that!

  3. rkw15

    I’m glad that you choose to talk about the man himself. I had learned about the photos in another class, but not in as much detail as you presented above. It’s also interesting to note that many Russian artist, not just photographers, portrayed the lives of peasants in their works.

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