The Empire That Was Russia

Photographer to the Tsar: Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky

The photographs of Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky (1863-1944) offer a vivid portrait of a lost world — the Russian Empire on the eve of World War I and the coming revolution. His subjects ranged from the medieval churches and monasteries of old Russia, to the railroads and factories of an emerging industrial power, to the daily life and work of Russia’s diverse population.

In the early 1900s, Prokudin-Gorsky formulated an ambitious plan for a photographic survey of the Russian Empire that won the support of Tsar Nicholas II. Between 1909-1912, and again in 1915, he completed surveys of eleven regions, traveling in a specially equipped railroad car provided by the Ministry of Transportation.

Prokudin-Gorsky took over 3,500 triple negatives. The collection of his colour pictures consists of 1,902 photographs. The whole collection can be seen at Some of the pictures can be seen at The Empire That Was Russia.

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