Utne Blogs > Arts and Culture

Russian Exposure

 by Lisa Gulya

Tags: Arts, visual art, photography, Russia, Museum of Russian Art,

Prokudin-Gorsky's photo of a Central Asian prisonSergei Prokudin-Gorsky produced color images decades before color film, but his photos of the Russian Empire didn't go on public display until the 21st century. It's no surprise, since shortly after Prokudin-Gorsky's cross-empire photo survey (between 1905 and 1915), the October Revolution erupted, the photographer's supporter Tsar Nicholas II was executed, and Prokudin-Gorsky fled to France. But the years spent documenting the empire must have been heady, traveling in a darkroom-outfitted railroad car, producing images of miners, prisoners, tea harvesters, and yurt-dwellers. “Using color-filtered glass plates to capture a red, a blue, and a green channel of each image, the chemist-turned-photographer was able to project dazzling pictures onto Russia’s walls long before the advent of Lumicolor and Kodachrome film in the 1930s,” writes Russia! (article not available online), a U.S.-based Russian culture magazine that reprinted several of Prokudin-Gorsky’s images in its summer 2008 issue. The images were quietly bought up by the U.S. Library of Congress after World War II and got little attention until they served as records for church restoration in the post-Soviet 1990s, reports Russia!. The images are available for the first time to U.S. audiences at The Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis, Minnesota, through October 1.