Could Sergei have known?


As I was looking through the collection of photographs in the Library of Congress site I c0uld not help but be amazed by the detail that was apparent at one hundred years old! The color and definition would not be out of place taken from a modern camera. After viewing these amazing pictures my next question was could SergeiĀ  Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky have known that these pictures would be such a great historical record? Taken just a few years before the Russian Empire was thrust into a tumultuous civil war they provide a window into a very different Russia than what was apparent under the Soviet regime. I realized after looking through dozens of photos though that Prokudin-Gorsky could not have known what would be important in history so he simply tried to capture it all, and he actually did a great job of that. Because there is so much it is easy to see what life in Russia was like around the turn of the twentieth century and historians everywhere owe him a huge thank you.

This particular image caught my attention because although it was a village, named Kolchedin, it featured a prominent church in the background. This village of Kolchedin was already over two hundred years old at the time of the photo and had become a central point for sandstone mining in the Ural Mountains. But even though it was village in one of the further parts of the empire it still featured rich Russian architecture that was evident in the design of the church. This depth of culture is something that we don’t really get to see in the United States because we are a much younger country, but also because we have more diversity than even such a large nation like Russia. It is immediately evident that Russia had not industrialized yet because many of the residents seem to have a fenced in vegetable plot of some sort. The roads are unpaved which was typical for the time, but there is a well maintained bridge in the foreground. Once again it is doubtful that Prokudin-Gorsky could have know how great a resource this picture would make for a typical Russian town in this time period, but that did not stop him snapping a picture of it.


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4 Responses to Could Sergei have known?

  1. bfulcer says:

    I thought the exact same thing when I was looking through the pictures. He seems to have captured almost every imaginable aspect of what life was like in Russia during the late 19th/early 20th centuries. The shear volume of photographs Produkin-Gorskii took is enough to provide a pretty accurate record of the way things probably were back then.

  2. Connor says:

    It truly is astounding how much Prokudin-Gorskii’s images are able to tell us today about the build-up to the revolutions in Russia so long ago. I touched on this idea to start my blog because it really is baffling that he could cover this topic so completely without any knowledge of what was just on the horizon. Perhaps it was just the fact that he set out to photograph the rich history of Russia and the shift to modernization in order to teach schoolchildren, and, although he didn’t know it at the time, this modernization was a fundamental reason for the revolutions to come. He had the right idea for a different reason.

  3. sean5221 says:

    After looking through the pictures I can’t help but agree with your statement. Sergei took pictures of everything and anything from people to fire houses or simply tree. However, I do think he knew some artifacts or places would be important such as Tiflis or even his pictures of Venice.

  4. mikevk117 says:

    I really do agree with your statement about him not being really sure what was important because of the extreme variety in pictures and no major underlying theme that you can easily follow other than the fact that they were taken around the same time period and they were in the Russian Empire. If there had been a plan to take pictures of historical significance I feel as if there would have been better kept records or notes alongside his photos in regards to why he made a choice of taking those photos of that area.

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