I came across Prokudin-Gorsky’s work while doing some research on hand colouring old/antique black and white pictures from the early 20th century. While most of the work is black and white from that time, a number of photographers experimented with three colour photography technique that was developed in the late 19th century.
Prokudin-Gorsky documented the then Russian Empire (1905-1916) with everyday life in his pioneering colour photography. With the Tsar’s blessing, he spent around 10 years photographing Russia and its people in colours.
His process used a camera that took a series of three monochrome pictures in sequence, each through a different coloured filter. By projecting all three monochrome pictures using correctly-coloured light, it was possible to reconstruct the original colour scene. Any stray movement within the camera’s field of view showed up in the prints as multiple “ghosted” images, since the red, green and blue images were taken of the subject at slightly different times.
Prokudin-Gorsky is best known for the only colour portrait of Tolstoy but his colour photography is indeed a timeless snapshot of the past. I felt lost in many of his pictures.
View more of his photography at Flickr.