As you will know by now I am interested in photography, and one of my favourite websites is the Big Picture, one of the first photojournalism sites on the Net, and one of the best too. This is where I first found these photos.
Now let’s say you only have black and white photography available, how would you make colour photographs? Colour photography captured through one lens was only invented in 1935 but below are colour photographs from the first two decades of the 20th century.
Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944) was commissioned to document the Russian empire, and he did so in an ingenious way and managed to get what are effectively colour photographs of his subjects by using a form of spectrum photography, taking three photographs in quick succession of the green, red and blue spectrums of the subject.
Once he had the material he could reconstruct a fair likeness of his original subject by projecting the three images with different light sources covering the range, which made up the original image. The colours can also be recombined with software now, and the ones below have been reproduced in this way.
Emir Seyyid Mir Mohammed Alim Khan, the Emir of Bukhara (Uzbekistan), ca. 1910
During the period he was working on this project he took over 2,000 photographs, which document an empire at the end of its days, though that can hardly have been known to him or his commissioners, but give the photographs an added poignancy for us looking at them today.
He photographed a great variety of subjects, inluding industries, infrastructure construction, city views, as well as people from far-flung quarters of the empire. Here to get started are some buildings:
View of Tiflis (Tblisi), Georgia from the grounds of Saint David Church, ca. 1910
General view of the Nikolaevskii Cathedral from southwest in Mozhaisk in 1911
A chapel sits on the site where the city of Belozersk was founded in ancient times, 1909
He also took some really excellent formal portraits, like the Emir of Bukhara, which we saw above. Here are a couple more.
Isfandiyar Jurji Bahadur, Khan of the Russian protectorate of Khorezm (Uzbekistan), ca. 1910
A man and woman pose in Dagestan, ca. 1910
But his ethnographic photographs taken of the ordinary folk is what he will be remembered for. Here are some really memorable photographs he took in various parts of the empire.
A group of women in Dagestan, ca. 1910
Nomadic Kirghiz on the Golodnaia Steppe in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, ca. 1910
Sart woman in purdah in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, ca. 1910.
A water-carrier in Samarkand (present-day Uzbekistan), ca. 1910
A boy sits in the court of Tillia-Kari mosque in Samarkand, present-day Uzbekistan, ca. 1910
An Armenian woman in national costume near Artvin (Turkey), ca. 1910
If you want to learn more about the development of colour photography, which we all take for granted these days, see this excellent article on the Wikipedia.
Now you may think that spectrum colour photography came to end decades ago, but you would be quite wrong about that. It is currently in the forefront of photography and is used to produce some of the most beautiful images you will ever see as tomorrow’s post will show.