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 Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky

Born:   August 31 (O.S. August 19) 1863
Deceased:   September 27, 1944

The great photographer and inventor


Sergey Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky was born and spent his childhood years in the Prokudin-Gorskys’s family estate Funikova Gora. From childhood Sergey Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky dreamed of dedicating his life to chemistry. According to family legends, Sergey Mikhailovich successfully entered Aleksandrovsky Lyceum, but the fact was not documentarily confirmed. Afterwards Prokudin-Gorsky graduated from Saint Petersburg Technology Institute, where he was especially zealous in attending lectures by the genius Russian scientist Dmitry Mendeleev. He was also a student of music and painting at the Imperial Academy of Arts. Upon graduation Prokudin-Gorsky continued his studies of photochemistry in Berlin and Paris. Thanks to his special talents Sergey Mikhailovich achieved cooperation with the chemistry star and inventors Adolf Miethe. Together they started developing perspective and progressive methods of creating color photography.

In the early 1900s the pioneering photographer Prokudin-Gorsky developed a grandiose project of a photoreview of the Russian Empire, and his idea came to be totally supported by Russian Tsar Nicholas II. During the period between 1909 and 1912, and then in 1915 Prokudin-Gorsky covered eleven regions of Russia, traveling in a specially equipped railway car which was provided by the Ministry of Railways. Thanks to his genius he managed to do quite a lot. In the early 20th century there were no multilayered color photographic materials, and therefore Prokudin-Gorsky used black-and-white photographic plates and the camera, which he had designed himself.

In 1918 the great empire imprinted by Sergey Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky in his works was ruined. The tsar’s family was shot. The photographer could not get on very well with the new Soviet power. They did not want to forget his close friendship with the imperial family. Some of his photos were confiscated, and in the lean year of 1918 he was provided starvation rations in accordance with the lowest "bourgeois" category. At the age of 55 years the offended photographer left Russia, first for Norway, and then for England. Surprisingly, but Sergey Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky managed to take with him 20 boxes with photographic plates - altogether about 1000 slides. Having emigrated, this most talented and great person continued his work on perfecting color photography and filming. Prokudin-Gorsky patented a new optical system for a movie camera, and then together with the Lumière Brothers opened a photolaboratory in Nice. Unfortunately, his work didn't get going, and then World War II broke out. Thus, for quite a while “Prokudin-Gorsky’s archives” were forgotten. It was already after the photographer’s death that his legatee sold boxes with unique photo plates (pictures of prerevolutionary Russia made on glass negatives) to the Library of the USA Congress in 1948.

Sergey Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky was a most talented person, an inventor and artist who was several decades ahead of his time. He embodied an amazing combination of a scientific and an artistic creator. Ingenious and unparalleled Sergey Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky has left his priceless heritage for us.

Tags: Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky Russian art Russian photographers   

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