The Past in Living Color

How do you picture the distant past? Do you see it in black and white? Edges blurred? The people standing stiff in their formal poses?

Because our imaginations are conditioned to see through the lens each era affords us, these sailors from a hundred years ago at first struck me as fake, staged. They look like contemporary actors in costume, those vivid colors are so unexpected, so alien from what we expect a century-old photograph to be. But then, when they reveal themselves to be authentic, they suddenly seem miraculous. How alive these sailors look! How less distant Imperial Russia seems!

So, while this is only marginally connected with Obsolescing, I had to post a link to these amazing photographs, which appeared yesterday on BBC News online. Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii was a Russian aristocrat, a chemist intrigued by photography, who invented his own technique for making color prints in the early 20th century. As the BBC reports, he “took thousands of pictures between 1909-1912 as he toured the Russian empire, armed with a special pass from Tsar Nicholas II. He created a panorama of all the peoples, landscapes, industries and antiquities under Russian possession.” The plates are in the collection of the Library of Congress, and you can see the entire, extraordinary archive online. 

Century-old glimpse of Russia in color

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