Culture & Art

Mar 1, 2017

SERGEI MIKHAILOVICH PROKUDIN-GORSKY - ONE SPECIAL MAN

The entrance of a new century always brings additional motivation to experiment and explore new worlds and new techniques. Some end up being vain and even futile. Others, however, cause real and true revolutions in people's lives and they perdure for many decades.

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Sergei was a remarkable man. He was born in 1862, in Funicova Gora, at Vladimir's Oblast (east of Moscow), Russia, and died September 27, 1944 in Paris, France, after the exile which he devoted on himself after the death of Tsar Nicolaus II.

He graduated as a chemist and studied along with the bigger names of his time in S. Petersburg (Russia), Berlin (Germany) and Paris (France). It is not so much as a chemist his name got engraved the world history, even though the discipline was a strong asset.

Prokudin-Gorsky remains in history as one of the most important actors and creators in developing the colour photography technique. With his work and studies, lots of patterned registrations came up for positive image film, full colour and image projection of moving pictures.

His bigger project to document, full colour, the huge historical, cultural and technological diversity of the Russian Empire arises in 1905. It was his objective that these records could be used throughout all the Empire schools.

The procedure he developed consisted in using a camera which would capture a series of monochromatic photographs, in a fast sequence. Each monochromatic picture was captured onto 3x9 inches glass plates, using a different coloured filter and, for that purpose, he used red, green and blue colours. Afterwards, the pictures would be individually reproduced using lights with the proper colour for each of them. Is was possible, thus, to reproduce the pictured scene with the original colours.

The ingenious chemist-photographer did not have, however, the mechanism which would allow him to print into canvas the pictures capture with this procedure. For that purpose, Sergei got a powerful ally and sponsor: Tsar Nicolaus II himself who, having heard of the wonders performed by the remarkable man, soon took the decision to grant him the huge responsibility of documenting the great vastness of the empire, its habits, culture, people and industry.

He placed at the disposal of Sergei a wagon train equipped with a dark chamber and all accessories and products he might need to perform the monumental task. At the same time, he granted Prokudin all needed authorization to visit all the empire's areas, even the most restricted so he could carry on the task.

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky toured the all empire between the years 1909 and 1915, building a vast collection of documentary pictures such has never seen so far. This way, he would show the world, all magnitude of the vast territory, its industrial richness, cultural, social and human.

After the Tsar's death, during the Socialist Revolution in 1918, Prokudin exhiled himself in Paris, where he would die in 1944, only one year before the end of World War II.

In 1948, the United States of America Library of Congress purchased the pictures from this special man heirs and, in 2001, along with the exhibition "The Empire Russia Was", performed the digital copy of all the images out from the three Sergei's monochromatic originals.

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