Living Color

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I spotted this photograph in my Tumblr feed and was  first struck by the intensity of the colors. They’re rather breathtaking, don’t you think?! Of course, I thought how the girls looked very Russian peasant-y; but I was incredibly surprised when I found out that this photo, along with thousands of others, was taken between the years of 1909-1915 when photographer Sergei Mikhailovitch Prokudin-Gorskii traveled around photographing the Russian Empire in the eve of World War I and the Russian Revolution of 1917.

He created one of the first techniques for color photography called digichromatography. In short, each color photo consists of three black and white photos that were photographed using a blue, red, and green filter with the negatives projected through those same color filters simultaneously to create one color photograph.

The thing I find so intriguing and amazing, is how the color brings such another dimension and life to a time and world we usually see only in black and white. Without color, they seem so much further away. It’s harder to see the life, if that makes sense. To see such vivid colors existing a 100 years ago, wow… It just makes history a little bit more alive in some way. I’m also fascinated simply because these are photos of Russia in the years before my own family left and came to the United States.

I look at these two photographs of my family, and I look at Prokudin-Gorskii’s and it makes me feel just a tiny bit closer to the family and the history I’ll never know. I look at these and wonder what my Grandmother, who came over as a little girl,  would think. She didn’t talk about the life much. In the years before she passed away, I managed to get her to write the story down for a family history project I put together in eleventh grade. I like to look it over now and then; the pages she wrote by hand on notebook paper; the maps she marked, dictating their escape from the violent pogroms. And I look at Gorskii’s photos, and it’s so nice to see that world in full, living and breathing color bursting forth as if to say: I lived!

Enjoy a few:

see more: here, and here
read more: here, and here

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2 responses »

  1. The early color photos are so amazing — I love that we really associate color art photography really getting started in the 1970s with Stephen Shore and gang. These really prove that wrong! These are just amazing!

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