The Lost Empire: Photographer to the Tsar

If there is one thing to be said about Russian photographer Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii, it's that he was ambitious. He was a chemist and photographer who merged his passions by designing a camera and method to view black-and-white negatives in color. At the beginning of the 20th century, he took on an even greater challenge. He decided to photograph as much of his homeland as possible. This was no small project. At over 17 million square kilometers, Russia is the largest country in the world, almost twice as big as the U.S. and bigger than Antarctica. Prokudin-Gorskii carved the nation into 11 parts and took his plan to Tsar Nicolas II, who authorized it and gave Prokudin-Gorskii a specially equipped train with a darkroom for his journey. After years of photographing his fellow Russians and historical sites, his project finally ended in 1915. After he left Russia, the country was thrown into revolution, and his glass plate negatives were all that were left showing the country as it had been. In 1948 the Library of Congress bought the entire catalogue from Prokudin-Gorskii's estate, and the images were converted to color using a complicated process called digichoromatography. The resulting images are a rich display of a huge swath of the world just before it collapsed into chaos.
May 5-Oct. 1, 2008

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