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sergei mikhailovich prokudin-gorskii:
photographer to the tsar

Negative PlatesI first read about Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944) earlier this year in Science Times. His accomplishments were so amazing that I decided they were worth repeating here.

Prokudin-Gorskii photographed the Russian empire in color by separating images into primary colors and exposing three separate glass plates (left). He and others combined the three separate plates with a projector or through printing to re-create the color images, but it was impossible to align them accurately... until now.

Researchers discovered that if they made high-resolution scans of the plates they could combine them with pixel accuracy using digital imaging software (Photoshop?), an innovative process known as digichromatography. The resulting color images are so vibrant and sharp that they look like they were taken yesterday!

Prokudin-Gorskii's unique images of Russia on the eve of revolution were purchased by the Library of Congress in 1948 from his heirs. The Library's on-line exhibition features a sampling of Prokudin-Gorskii's historic images produced through the new process; the digital technology that makes these superior color prints possible; and celebrates the fact that for the first time many of these wonderful images are available to the public.

Self-PortraitBorn in St. Petersburg in 1863 and educated as a chemist, Prokudin-Gorskii (self-portrait, right) devoted his career to the advancement of photography. He studied with renowned scientists in St. Petersburg, Berlin, and Paris. His own original research yielded patents for producing color film slides and for projecting color motion pictures. Around 1907 Prokudin-Gorskii envisioned and formulated a plan to use the emerging technological advancements that had been made in color photography to systematically document the Russian Empire. Through such an ambitious project, his ultimate goal was to educate the schoolchildren of Russia with his "optical color projections" of the vast and diverse history, culture, and modernization of the empire. Outfitted with a specially equipped railroad car darkroom provided by Tsar Nicholas II, and in possession of two permits that granted him access to restricted areas and cooperation from the empire's bureaucracy, Prokudin-Gorskii documented the Russian Empire around 1907 through 1915. He conducted many illustrated lectures of his work. Prokudin-Gorskii left Russia in 1918, after the Russian Revolution, and eventually settled in Paris, where he died in 1944.

Copyright © 2008 Sandy Campbell. All rights reserved. Last updated December 30.