Russia Before 1917 in Color Photos That Look Incredibly Alive

By Ingrid Longauerová, Epoch Times
April 26, 2016 12:46 pm Last Updated: July 24, 2016 10:58 am

Almost one hundred years ago, Russia was a very different country. An enormous empire spreading across Asia to northern Europe, it was home to different nationalities, tribes, and rulers.

When the revolutions in 1917 dismantled the Tsarist autocracy and established communism in Europe, many were forced to leave their country in order to escape the regime. 

One of them was a renowned Russian photographer Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky (1863–1944), who years earlier became famous thanks to his color portrait of Leo Tolstoy. The photo was noticed by Tsar Nicholas II., who sent Prokudin-Gorsky on the trip of his life. 

Lithograph print of photograph Leo Tolstoy by Prokudin-Gorsky, 1908, the first color photo portrait in Russia. (Public domain)
Lithograph print of photograph Leo Tolstoy by Prokudin-Gorsky, 1908, the first color photo portrait in Russia. (Public domain)

Prokudin-Gorsky went on to capture the whole length of the Russian Empire in color.  

Spinning yarn. In the village of Izvedovo, 1910. (
Spinning yarn in the village of Izvedovo in 1910. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

 

Prokudin-19
Greek workers harvesting tea from plants near Chakva, on the east coast of the Black Sea, between 1907 and 1915. This region of the Russian Empire was located in present day Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia, and had a significant Greek minority. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

Girl with strawberries. Russian Empire in 1909. (
A girl with strawberries, Russian Empire in 1909. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

Monks at work. Planting potatoes, Gethsemane Monastery, in 1910. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)
Monks planting potatoes on the property of the Gethsemane Monastery in 1910. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

The Emir of Bukhara, Alim Khan (1880-1944), poses solemnly for his portrait, taken in 1911 shortly after his accession. As ruler of an autonomous city-state in Islamic Central Asia, the Emir presided over the internal affairs of his emirate as absolute monarch, although since the mid-1800s Bukhara had been a vassal state of the Russian Empire. With the establishment of Soviet power in Bukhara in 1920, the Emir fled to Afghanistan where he died in 1944. (
The Emir of Bukhara, Alim Khan, in a portrait from 1911, shortly after his accession. After the Soviets were established in Bukhara (present day Uzbekistan) in 1920, the Emir was forced to flee to Afghanistan where he died in 1944. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

The Bakaly hills, outside the city of Ekaterinburg, provided the locale for a small-scale family mining operation, 1910. (
Family mining operation in the Bakaly hills, outside the city of Ekaterinburg, in 1910. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

Ekaterinin spring. Borzhom, between 1905 and 1915. (
Ekaterinin Spring in the resort town once called Borzhom, between 1905 and 1915. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

Melon vendor. Samarkand, between 1905 and 1915. (Prokudin-Gorskii/LOC)
Melon vendor in Samarkand, between 1905 and 1915. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

Dagestani types, between 1905 and 1915. (
A Dagestani, between 1905 and 1915. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

Sart types. Samarkand, 1905-1915. (
Sarts, or settled inhabitants, in Samarkand, between 1905 and 1915. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

03945v
Dagestani people, between 1905 and 1915. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

1911 Samarkand, an ancient commercial, intellectual, and spiritual center on the Silk Road from Europe to China, developed a remarkably diverse population, including Tajiks, Persians, Uzbeks, Arabs, Jews and Russians. Samarkand, and all of West Turkestan, was incorporated into the Russian Empire in the middle of the 19th century and has retained its ethnic diversity. Here, Jewish boys in traditional dress study with their teacher. (
Jewish boys in traditional dress study with their teacher in Samarkand, in 1911. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

Bashkir woman in a folk costume in 1910. Bashkira is a part of Orenburg  Oblast, close to the border with Kazakhstan. (
A Bashkir woman in a folk costume in 1910. Bashkira is a part of Orenburg Oblast, close to the border of Kazakhstan. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

A. P. Kalganov poses with his son and granddaughter in the industrial town of Zlatoust in the Ural Mountain region of Russia, 1910. The son and granddaughter were employed at the Zlatoust Arms Plant—a major supplier of armaments to the Russian military since the early 1800s. (
A. P. Kalganov with his son and granddaughter in the industrial town of Zlatoust in the Ural Mountain region of Russia, in 1910. The Zlatoust Arms Plant was a major supplier of armaments to the Russian military since the early 1800s. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

Catholic Armenian woman in customary dress, between 1905 and 1915. (
Catholic Armenian woman in customary dress, between 1905 and 1915. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

Photographer Prokudin-Gorskii, far right, with  Murman man at northwest Russia in 1915. (
Photographer Prokudin-Gorskii (far right) with Murman men at northwest Russia in 1915. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

Bureaucrat in Bukhara, between 1905 and 1915. (
A bureaucrat in Bukhara, between 1905 and 1915. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

Prokudin-Gorskii, right front, and others ride the Murmansk Railroad in a handcar along the shores of Lake Onega near Petrozavodsk in 1915. (
Prokudin-Gorskii, right front, and others ride the Murmansk Railroad in a handcar along the shores of Lake Onega near Petrozavodsk in 1915. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

Georgian woman, between 1905 and 1915. (
A Georgian woman, between 1905 and 1915. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

Unidentified prison in shackles, c. 1905-1915. (
Unidentified prisoner in shackles, between 1905 and 1915. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

Pinkhus Karlinsky, 84 years,  the supervisor of the Chernigov floodgate 66 years in sevice. Russian Empire on 1909. (
Pinkhus Karlinskii, 84 years old, the supervisor of the Chernigov floodgate with 66 years in service to the Russian Empire, in 1909. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

ca. 1907-1915 Ethnic Russian settlers to the Mugan Steppe region established a small settlement named Grafovka, immediately north of the border with Persia. Settlement of Russians in non-European parts of the empire, and particularly in border regions, was encouraged by the government and accounts for much of the Russian migration to Siberia, the Far East and the Caucasus regions. (
Ethnic Russian settlers to the Mugan Steppe region at the settlement Grafovka, north of the border with Persia, between 1907 and 1915. Settlement of Russians in non-European parts of the empire was encouraged by the government. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

Turkmen man posing with camel loaded with sacks, probably of grain or cotton, Central Asia, in c 1905-1915. (
Turkman man with camel loaded with sacks in Central Asia, between 1905 and 1915. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

Children sit on the side of a hill near a church and bell-tower in the countryside near White Lake, in the north of European Russia, 1909. (
Children near White Lake, in the north of European Russia, 1909. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

A Bashkir switch operator by the main line of the railroad, near the town of Ust-Katav on the Yuryuzan River between Ufa and Chelyabinsk in the Ural Mountains of European Russia in 1910. (
A Bashkir switch operator by the main line of the railroad, near the town of Ust-Katav on the Yuryuzan River in the Ural Mountains of European Russia in 1910. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

Fabric merchant. Samarkand, between 1905 and 1915. (
A fabric merchant in Samarkand, between 1905 and 1915. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

Nomadic Kirghiz. Golodnaia Steppe, between 1905 and 1915. (
Nomadic Kirghiz on the Golodnaia Steppe, between 1905 and 1915. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

 Peasant girls. Russian Empire in 1909. (
Peasant girls of the Russian Empire in 1909. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

[Full-length profile portrait of a woman, possibly Turkman or Kirgiz, standing on a carpet at the entrance to a yurt, dressed in traditional clothing and jewelry, 1905 and 1915. (
Full-length profile portrait of a woman, possibly Turkman or Kirghiz, on a carpet at the entrance to a yurt, between 1905 and 1915. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

Ostrechiny, Study. Russian Empire in 1909. (
The Ostrechiny, Study, Russian Empire in 1909. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

Zindan (prison), with inmates looking out through the bars and a guard with Russian rifle, uniform, and boots in Central Asian part of Russian Empire in  1905 and 1915. (
Prison with inmates and guard wearing a Russian uniform, in the Central Asian part of the Russian Empire, between 1905 and 1915. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

Prokudin-23
An early autumn scene from 1909. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

Prokudin-21
Preparations for pouring concrete foundations for a dam across the Oka River southeast of Moscow, near the small town of Dedinovo, in 1912. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

Study near the Kivach waterfall, Suna River, between 1905 and 1915. (
Photographer himself posing near the Kivach waterfall, Suna River, between 1905 and 1915. (Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky/LOC)

 

The larger selection of Prokudin-Gorksy images can be found at the Library of Congress.