Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, Photographer
If you were thinking that the gentleman in the photo to the left is Leo Tolstoy himself, you would be right. And, as if that were not enough, this photo apparently is the first color portrait photograph ever taken in Russia.
There are moments when RT is simply boggled by the value of photography as a medium of record; the famous, the unknown, now long dead, are brought back to us with an absolute immediacy. We should also pause for a moment to consider the photographers who have made this experience possible.
And in particular, RT has in mind Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. Prokudin-Gorskii was born into the Russian nobility in 1863 and studied chemistry, music, and painting at the Saint Petersburg State Institute of Technology. Married twice, he had four children, and left Russia after the October Revolution, eventually settling in Paris, where he lived out the remainder of his life (he died in 1944).
The photo of Tolstoy is certainly Prokudin-Gorskii’s single most famous image, but he considered his masterpiece to be a photographic documentary of Russia undertaken with Tsar Nicolas II’s support; during this project (which lasted from 1909 to 1918), P-G made about 10,000 photographs.
Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii brought the innovation of color photography to Russia, adapting it to the needs of his country. His photographs help preserve the beauty of Imperial Russia while reminding us of the scope of the changes that have taken place in the last hundred years.