Monday, December 3, 2012

Book Review | Nostaglia

Emir of Bukhara in Bukhara (1911), from Nostalgia

Nostalgia: The Russian Empire of Czar Nicholas II. The Russia of Czar Nicholas II in laboriously restored historical color photographs by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii

by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii; Robert Klanten, Editor
Gestalten, Berlin, 2012

In 1914 the Russian Empire was among the Allied Powers who went to war against Germany and Austria-Hungary, the Central Powers. Three years later, in the upheaval of the Bolshevik Revolution, Czar Nicholas II abdicated, Russia withdrew from the conflict, and in 1918, the czar and his family were murdered.

That same year, among the native Russians who left the country, was a chemist and pioneering photographer named Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944). He was wise to leave because his family had ties to the aristocracy and the military, and in recent years, he had been working for the czar. Beginning in 1909, he had been given financial support, a mobile darkroom, and unusually lenient permission to travel, for the purpose of documenting the people, architecture, landmarks and natural surroundings of what was then the largest, most diverse empire in history. That achievement in itself is amazing, but there is another dimension that makes it more extraordinary—Prokudin-Gorskii’s photographs were made in color, at a time when color photography was rudimentary. Indeed, it would not be widely available for another 25 years.

This impressive volume is a large-sized “coffee table book” in which are collected (in maximum page size) more than 300 of Prokudin-Gorskii’s photographs. There are also informative essays about the purpose and range of his travels. Many of these photographs can only be said to be stunning, because of their richness of color, of course, but also because they provide us with eyewitness views of what it was like to be alive under the rule of Nicholas II, as distinct from the later infamous regimes of the Communists. more>>>