Sergei Prokudin-Gordskii was a Russian photographer who was hired by Tsar Nicholas II to travel around the Russian Empire and photograph urban and rural scenes, the up and coming railroad, people, factories, and natural scenes. His ability to develop the photos in color made his collection more visual. A pair of images I found very intriguing while looking at his collection in the World Digital Library was a tea factory and a tea plantation in Chakva, Georgia. Tea was a popular commodity throughout the Russian Empire because of its taste and accessibility. By the early 20th century however Chakva became one of Russia’s main suppliers of tea. Georgia’s humid climate made it easy to sustain and cultivate tea bushes in mass production. However, discontent held by Georgian farmers grew into a national movement by the late 19th and early 20th century. Gregory Freeze noted in his book, Russia: A History, that “new social classes emerged during the Russian Imperial period due to industrialization and an agricultural crisis who were ready for change” (213).
The first image shows a tea factory with bins of fermenting tea leaves. Behind these bins appears to be machines that could have been used to process the leaves and make the tea. I would assume the tea factory is close to the tea plantation so the freshly plucked leaves could stay as fresh as possible. The second image depicts workers, I would assume mainly women, picking tea leaves. It looks to be laborious work as they constantly have to bend over and pick the top leaves from the mature plants to ensure the best tea quality. On the far left of the image there appears to be a man in a white tunic and cap who I would assume to be a supervisor.
Before the Russian empire expanded into Georgia, the Ottoman Empire had dominated the area in the 16th century. Georgia had a majority peasant population and had been exploited for their labor by invaders. The emancipation of the serfs, by Tsar Nicholas II, “freed” many peasants but did little to alleviate their poverty as they were still assigned to plots of land to work. The growth of capitalism created an urban working class in Georgia. Economic conditions continued to worsen and growing discontent contributed to the growth of revolutionary movements such as strikes and revolts within the Russian Empire.
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a History. Oxford University Press, 2009.