Nostalgia by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii

Color Photographs that Capture the Russian Empire of Czar Nicholas II in Unparalleled Vividness
Date: October 19, 2012–November 25, 2012
Location: Gestalten Space, Sophie-Gips-Höfe, Sophienstraße 21, 10178 Berlin
Vernissage: October 18, 2012, 18:00–21:00

As part of the European Month of Photography, Gestalten is pleased to present Nostalgia, a showcase of groundbreaking color images by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii that document the Russia of Czar Nicholas II. This exhibit is the first to present such a wide selection of the color photography pioneer’s recently laboriously restored work in Europe. Prokudin-Gorskii developed his unprecedented technique—a method in which he used color-sensitive glass plates—decades before the widespread availability of color film. To reflect how Prokudin-Gorskii originally meant it to be seen and to best capture its vividness, Nostalgia will show his work as color projections.

The exhibit presents an unparalleled selection of newly restored color images of the vast Russian empire, which were a sensation of their time and which, a century later, have not lost any of their original beauty and intensity. The subjects of Prokudin-Gorskii’s landscape photography range from the medieval churches and monasteries of old Russia to the railroads and factories of an emerging industrial power. Although one of his first and most famous portraits was of the prominent writer Leo Tolstoy, Prokudin-Gorskii also captured an impressive range of Russia’s heterogeneous population: from day laborers to owners of large estates, from a simple ferryman to an elegant emir, from Jewish families to proud Don Cossacks.
It is Prokudin-Gorskii’s expert use of color and his skilled eye that make his images especially vibrant and timeless. According to Gestalten’s publisher Robert Klanten, the use of color “gives us a much deeper connection to content of the images than previously possible. By seeing them in their original colors, the people, landscapes, and architecture of a long-gone empire are brought to life. Their history becomes much more real to us than it ever could be in abstract black and white.”

The exhibit presents an unparalleled selection of newly restored color images of the vast Russian empire, which were a sensation of their time and which, a century later, have not lost any of their original beauty and intensity. The subjects of Prokudin-Gorskii’s landscape photography range from the medieval churches and monasteries of old Russia to the railroads and factories of an emerging industrial power. Although one of his first and most famous portraits was of the prominent writer Leo Tolstoy, Prokudin-Gorskii also captured an impressive range of Russia’s heterogeneous population: from day laborers to owners of large estates, from a simple ferryman to an elegant emir, from Jewish families to proud Don Cossacks.

It is Prokudin-Gorskii’s expert use of color and his skilled eye that make his images especially vibrant and timeless. According to Gestalten’s publisher Robert Klanten, the use of color “gives us a much deeper connection to content of the images than previously possible. By seeing them in their original colors, the people, landscapes, and architecture of a long-gone empire are brought to life. Their history becomes much more real to us than it ever could be in abstract black and white.”

Gestalten is also honored to have worked with the Library of Congress in Washington, DC to present this selection of newly restored color images by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii in the book Nostalgia. In addition to featuring a larger scope of his color photography than ever before, the book showcases the beauty of each individual image. A full page is dedicated to every photo, many of which even reveal some of their frames and bleed. 

A selection of images from the Nostalgia book are available as fine art prints. Purchase here.

For more information about the European Month of Photography in Berlin, please visit www.mdf-berlin.de.

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Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii began his journey to capture all of Russia in color images on behalf of the czar in 1909. Since 1905 the color photography pioneer had planned to systematically document the empire with the color photography technique he had developed in order to give all Russians, particularly schoolchildren, a deeper connection to their country. He petitioned Nicholas II long enough that the czar finally provided him with a specially equipped railroad-car darkroom and the necessary travel permits.

After what would become a six-year photographic expedition, Prokudin-Gorskii fled Russia in 1918 in the aftermath of the October Revolution. After traveling through Norway and England, he settled in Paris, where he died in 1944. The United States Library of Congress purchased his work in 1948, but it was only recently laboriously restored. Both the exhibit and book Nostalgia showcase the resulting wider range of masterpieces of early color photography that are a milestone in Russia’s cultural history.

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