1907-1915: Russia before the Revolution in colour

1911 - The Emir of Bukhara, Alim Khan (1880-1944), poses solemnly for his portrait, taken in 1911 shortly after his accession. As ruler of an autonomous city-state in Islamic Central Asia, the Emir presided over the internal affairs of his emirate as absolute monarch, although since the mid-1800s Bukhara had been a vassal state of the Russian Empire. With the establishment of Soviet power in Bukhara in 1920, the Emir fled to Afghanistan where he died in 1944.

These pictures were taken by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky (1863–1944), a Russian photographer who developed an early colour photographic process. He was commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II to travel across the Russian Empire capturing its scenes and peoples in many thousands of colour photographs.

The photographs were taken over a decade from 1905-1915. Not only did the Tsar gave Prokudin-Gorsky authority to traverse the Empire, he also funded the work and had a specially adapted railway carriage made available to Prokudin-Gorsky as a darkroom.

The process used by Prokudin-Gorsky utilised three separate black-and-white frames, each with a red, green or blue filter applied. Combining these frames created a full colour image.

Following the Revolution of 1918, Prokudin-Gorsky and his family came to reside in Paris. Around half of his images had been detained by Communist authorities when he vacated Russia. The remaining images were acquired by the Library of Congress in 1948 from the photographer’s heirs.

All images: Prokudin-Gorsky / Library of Congress