1905-1915: Colors of the Tsar

1910: A group of laborers sitting in front of a pile of logs, being transported as lumber for the smelting of iron ore.

On the Registan. Men posed on steps of a mosque, Samarkand.

1909: A group of women haying at the Leushinskii Monastery

These photographs, twenty of which are presented restored for the first time, show the Russian Empire before the Revolution, in color.

The photographs are the work of Sergey Prokudin-Gorskii (1863–1944). After taking a color portrait of Tolstoy, Prokudin-Gorskii became known to the then-Tsar Nicholas II.  Commissioned and funded by the Tsar, he was to travel the span of the empire, capturing it in color. In total, Prokudin-Gorskii took more than 10,000.  He utilised a railroad car as a darkroom, remodelled to suit his requirements. 

Prokudin-Gorsky's color photographic, process, never commercialised, employed three individual black-and-white exposures, through a red, green or blue filter. Brought together, the three filtered exposures revealed the full color image.

Not all the photographs have a specific date, but all were taken in the decade between 1905 and 1915.

Prokudin-Gorsky left Russia in 1918 after the Communist Revolution and ultimately came to settle with his family in Paris. Approximately half of his own negatives were confiscated by the Russian authorities on his departure.

In 1948, the remaining images - just over 2,600 - were bought by the Library of Congress from Prokudin-Gorskii's sons. 

‘The Russian Empire at this time stretched 7,000 miles from west to east and 3,000 miles from north to south and comprised one-sixth of the earth's land mass. It was the largest empire in history’

- Library of Congress

A forest road.

Houses and a poppy field.

1910: A Bashkir dog, Ekhir.

1910: A young Bashkir man, Ekhir.

A woman spinning yarn in the village of Izvedovo.

A Ukrainian woman.

Settlers in Grafovka

Ethnic Russian settlers to the Mugan Steppe region established a small settlement named Grafovka, immediately north of the border with Persia. Settlement of Russians in non-European parts of the empire, and particularly in border regions, was encouraged by the government and accounts for much of the Russian migration to Siberia, the Far East and the Caucasus regions.

A Migrant farmstead

In the settlement of Nadezhdinsk, with a group of peasants. Golodnaia Steppe.

1915: Prokudin-Gorskii on the Murmansk Railroad

Prokudin-Gorskii, right front, and others ride the Murmansk Railroad in a handcar along the shores of Lake Onega near Petrozavodsk. From the beginning of Russian railroad construction in the 1850s, rails were laid using a wider gauge (5 feet, 3.5 inches) than the standard European one.

1915: Railroad and foot bridge across the Onda River near Soroki Station

1910: A Bashkir switch operator

Taken by the main line of the railroad, near the town of Ust-Katav on the Yuryuzan River between Ufa and Chelyabinsk in the Ural Mountains of European Russia.

Chinese foreman

A Chinese foreman poses with established tea plants and new plantings at a tea farm and processing plant in Chakva, a small town just north of Batumi on the Black Sea.


Cotton Field in Sukhumi Botanical Garden

The moderate, Mediterranean-like climate of the Black Sea region allowed cultivation of crops that would not grow in most parts of the empire, such as tea and cotton. Sukhumi, on the east coast of the Black Sea in what is now the northwestern part of the Republic of Georgia, had an important botanical garden and experimentation station. Shown here is a stand of cotton plants at the Sukhumi Botanical Gardens.

1910: Monks planting potatoes

The fields were reclaimed from the dense conifer forest at the Gethsemane Hermitage on Lake Seliger near the headwaters of the Volga River.

Workers harvesting tea

Workers, identified by Prokudin-Gorskii as Greeks, pose while harvesting tea from plants spreading over rolling hills near Chakva, on the east coast of the Black Sea. This region of the Russian Empire, in present day Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, had a significant Greek minority.

1909: Haymaking

An early autumn scenes hows farmers taking a short break from their work to pose for their photograph. The location, though unidentified, is probably near the town of Cherepovets in north central European Russia.

Evgenievsky spring, Borzhom

A group of people stand near a natural spring at the health resort of Evgenievsky; some are drinking the water.

1912: Constructing a dam

Workers and supervisors pause for a photograph amid preparations for pouring concrete foundations for a dam across the Oka River southeast of Moscow, near the small town of Dedinovo.

1910: Molding of an artistic casement

Founded in 1747, the Kasli Iron Works, was located in the heart of the Ural Mountains between the cities of Ekaterinburg and Cheliabinsk—a region rich in iron ore. The plant was known for the high quality of its cast iron products and for its highly-skilled work force, which numbered over three thousand persons at the time this photograph was taken.

September 4th, 1911: View from the bell tower, Belgorod

A view from the bell tower of the Trinity cathedral (of the Trinity Monastery) on Cathedral Square, Belgorod, during the celebration of the canonization of Ioasaf of Belgorod.

1909: A fire brigade

The fire squad in the city of Vytegra.

A group of laborers 

1911: A Rabbi and students

Samarkand, an ancient commercial, intellectual, and spiritual center on the Silk Road from Europe to China, developed a remarkably diverse population, including Tajiks, Persians, Uzbeks, Arabs, Jews and Russians. Samarkand, and all of West Turkestan, was incorporated into the Russian Empire in the middle of the 19th century and has retained its ethnic diversity. Here, Jewish boys in traditional dress study with their teacher.

1911: An elderly man and his catch,

In a photograph taken near Samarkand, an elderly man, probably an ethnic Tajik, holds birds he has just caught. Samarkand and its region were noted for wide diversity in ethnic groups, including Uzbeks, Tajiks, Persians and Arabs as well as the more recently arrived Russians.

 A man on horseback

Next to an adobe structure with a dog and another horse nearby. Nazar Magomet, Golodnaia Steppe.

Baĭga, Samarkand

A large group of men, most on horseback, assembled on a hillside, probably for a traditional game of horsemanship called bayga.

Two prisoners in shackles

Inmates in a zindan

A Sunni Muslim man

Dagestan, meaning “land of mountains” in the Turkic languages, contains a population consisting of many nationalities, including Avars, Lezgi, Noghay, Kumuck and Tabasarans. Pictured here is a Sunni Muslim man of undetermined nationality wearing traditional dress and headgear, with a sheathed dagger at his side.

Dagestan men and women

Men and women pose in traditional dress for portraits in the mountainous interior region of Gunib on the north slope of the Caucasus Mountains in what is today the Dagestan Republic of the Russian Federation.

An Uzbek woman

Prokudin-Gorksii captures the traditional dress, jewelry and hairstyle of an Uzbek woman standing on a richly decorated carpet at the entrance to a yurt, a portable tent used for housing by the nomadic peoples of Central Asia. After conquering Turkestan in the mid-1800s, the Russian government exerted strong pressure on the nomadic peoples to settle permanently in villages, towns and cities.

A Surt woman

A woman in purdah, standing near a wooden door, Samarkand.

A Georgian woman

A street scene with vendors and a child

In the background, a minaret.

1911: Melon vendor

Dressed in traditional Central Asian attire, a vendor of locally grown melons poses at his stand in the marketplace of Samarkand in present-day Uzbekistan.

A fruit stand, Samarkand

Men seated on steps under archway of the main entrance into Shakh-i Zindeh mosque, Samarkand

1911: A Bukhara bureaucra, Bukhara




1911: The Emir of Bukhara, Alim Khan (1880-1944)

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.

1909: Children on the side of a hill

Near a church and bell-tower in the countryside near White Lake, in the north of European Russia.

January 1st, 1907

Observing a solar eclipse on January 1, 1907, near the Cherniaevo Station in the Tian-Shan mountains above the Saliuktin mines. Golodnaia Steppe.

Sunset in Gagra

This capsule takes as its starting point the Library Congress' physical and online exhibition "The Empire That Was Russia".

Without this exhibition, and the work of the Library of Congress, it would not have been possible to create this capsule.


Exhibition Team: 

Lynn Brooks, Information Technology Services; Irene Chambers, Chief, Interpretive Programs Office; Kimberli Curry, Exhibition Director, Interpretive Programs Office; Verna Curtis, Prints and Photographs Division; Harry Katz, Prints and Photographs Division; Harry Leich, European Division; Betsy Nahum-Miller, Interpretive Programs Office; John Van Oudenaren, Chief, European Division; Deborah Durbeck, Giulia Adelfio, Denise Agee, Margaret Brown, Tambra Johnson, Martha Hopkins, Antonio La Greca, Susan Mordan, Christopher O'Connor, David Haywood, and Gwynn Wilhelm; Interpretive Programs Office.

Special thanks:

Helena Zinkham, Sarah Rouse, Cathy Hoban, Philip Michel, Timberly Wuester, Mary Jane Appel, Peggy Gardner, Emily MacKinnon, Jeanne Korda, Tracy Meehleib, DeAnna Evans, Prints and Photographs Division; Jan Lancaster, National Digital Library Program; Jurij Dobczansky, Yelena Margolina, Robert Morgan, Social Sciences Cataloging Directorate; Christopher Murphy, African and Middle Eastern Division; Rikki Condon, Conservation Office; Norma Baker and Susan Siegel, Development Office; Kim Moden and Nancy Mitchell, Special Events Office; Jill Brett and Helen Dalrymple, Public Affairs Office; Domenic Sergi, Karl Rogers, Herbert Becker, and Judy Stork, Information Technology Services; Winston Tabb, Diane Kresh, Julianne Mangin, Elizabeth Miller, Sandy Bostian, Library Services; Gene Roberts, Geography and Map Division; Stanley Bandong, Graphics Service Unit; Jeffrey Anderson and Onnetta Benoit, Printing Management Section; Debra Murphy and Christopher Hansen, Office of Contracts and Logistics.

Assistance and expertise:

Svetlana Garanina, Ksenia Volkova

Walt Frankhauser, of WalterStudio™ Photography, Monrovia, Maryland. Mr. Frankhauser developed the complex digital process (called digichromatography) for rendering Prokudin-Gorskii's photographs in color.

William Craft Brumfield, Professor of Slavic Languages at Tulane University, for assistance with the Prokudin-Gorskii collection. Professor Brumfield was the curator of an exhibition of Prokudin-Gorskii photographs held at the Library from November 1986 through May 1987; this exhibition subsequently traveled to several venues across the United States.


All pictures: Library of Congress