Portfolio: Sergei Produkin-Gorsky provides a record of life before fall of Romanov dynasty

 

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The Independent Culture

As ruler of the largest single territory in the world at the time, it was impossible for Tsar Nicholas II to travel the extent of Russia, which at the turn of the 20th century extended from Finland to Turkestan, and from Poland to Siberia.

Impressed with the pioneering work in colour photography by the chemist Sergei Produkin-Gorsky, the Tsar hired the sometime photographer to travel around his empire and document its most remote lands and people.

Travelling by horse-drawn carriage, boat and rail from 1909 to 1915, Produkin-Gorsky collected over 10,000 images, providing a record of life just before the fall of the Romanov dynasty in 1917.

Remarkably, until about 10 years ago, we were unable to see the pictures as printed objects. Produkin-Gorsky's technique was the three colour separation process, which entailed capturing images with three black-and-white photographs taken through different coloured filters. When the lenses were combined, the images could be seen in colour, but only as projections.

"Developments in digital composition technique towards the end of the 20th century enabled us to develop prints and see what the images would have looked like when Produkin-Gorsky presented them to the Tsar," says Kate Bush, curator of a new exhibition that includes some of the pictures.

 

"As well as doing a job, I think he was an incredible artist, with an enormous vision. He wanted to educate his people about their country. It was hugely ambitious."

'Close and Far: Russian Photography Now', Calvert 22 Gallery, London E2, Wednesday to 17 August, calvert22.org

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