Ghosts of the Russian Empire

The Russian photographer Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944) formulated a plan in the early years of the 20th century to conduct a photographic survey of the vast Russian Empire.  The scheme won the support of Czar Nicholas II, who funded expeditions in 1909-1912, and again in 1915, which took Prokudin-Gorskii in a specially equipped railroad car through eleven regions.  His goal was to utilize modern advancements in photography to create “optical color projections,” which could be be used to educate schoolchildren on the unique history, culture and customs of the many different parts of the Russian Empire.  After the Revolution, Prokudin-Gorskii fled Russia, eventually settling in France, where he died in 1944.  His glass plates were purchased by the Library of Congress from his heirs in 1948.  They capture a cluster of vanished worlds just before the collapse of the Russian Empire, and the new Soviet regime’s policies of collectivization and forced settlement.

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