Pavel Scheufler, historian of photography, from Film and TV School
of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague
Lynn E. Brooks, retired head of Digital Scan Center, U. S. Library
of Congress, came from Lynchburg, Virginia, USA
We have been pleasantly surprised by the interest in
Prokudin-Gorsky's work. At the opening of the exhibition, we had
over 200 guests.
Dr. Victor Minachin, of the Russian Academy of Sciences, prepared
two great posters describing the technique of color photography
used by Prokudin-Gorsky. Dr Minachin intended to be with us for the
opening of the exhibition, but sadly, due to illness, this was not
As a very pleasant surprise to us, the Orthodox Church in Tábor has
loaned us an icon for the exhibition.
At ground level are photographs mostly from European Russia.
On basement level are photographs from Siberia, Daghestan, Georgia
and Central Asia.
(napsal Dr. Viktor Minachin, Ruská akademie věd)
Prokudin-Gorsky and his Place in the History of
(written by Dr. Viktor Minachin, Russian Academy of
Sciences and Restavrator-M Restoration Center, Moscow)
The technique of three-color photography was historically the
first practical method to capture color photographic images. It was
first used for practical photography by Louis Ducos du Hauron
(1837–1920) who patented his technique in 1868 in France.
The idea proposed and tested earlier by James Clark Maxwell was
to make three separate black and white negatives through three
colored filters. The result was a triple black and white
imagecalled color separations. Ducos du Hauron made his first color
separations on three separate sheets of paper. The sensitivity of
emulsion to the red part of the spectrum was so low that he had to
expose the scene through the red (or rather orange) filter for
Around the turn of the 20th century an important advance was made
by Professors Vogel (1834–1898) and Miethe (1862–1927) in Germany
who significantly improved the sensibility of the emulsion to the
red light. Miethe also developed a very practical design of the
triple-color camera which used a negative glass plate 8 by 24 cm.
In 1902–1904 a Russian scientist and photographer Sergei
Prokudin-Gorsky (1863–1944) worked at Miethe's laboratory and fully
mastered the technique of Dreifarbenphotographie nach der Natur.
After this he devoted his life to further developing this
technology as well as to creating the collection of the Splendors
of Russia in Natural Colors. Most of his color photographs were
taken between 1904 and 1916.
Prokudin-Gorsky emigrated from Russia in 1918 and later his
family was able to bring the major part of the collection of glass
negatives to France. In 1948 the collection was purchased by the
U.S. Library of Congress. Since then 1902 glass plates are
preserved in perfect order and constitute the largest surviving
collection of triple black and white negatives in the world.
Prokudin-Gorsky - What Kind of Color Images Was He
Able to See at His Time.
(written by Dr. Viktor Minachin, Russian Academy of
The sad irony of the technique of the Three-Color Photography
was that Prokudin-Gorsky himself never saw the entire collection of
his images in color. Most of the surviving images are preserved in
the form of triple black and white negatives and only rarely as
historic color prints or slides which in any case are no match to
present day color photographs.
At Prokudin-Gorsky's time several techniques were used to create
a color image from triple black and white negatives.
Triple-color projection: A contact triple black and white
positive was printed on a glass plate and then projected through a
special triple projector. Each of the three positives was projected
on the screen through a different filter.
Carbro Process: Three bromide paper enlargments were
produced from the three separation negatives. Each of the prints
was passed through a chemical solution with gelatin pigment. The
silver bromide image produced corresponding fixed image in the
gelatin pigment, and after rinsing off the non-fixed gelatin, three
images were obtained in the three colors. These three images were
combined on a paper mounting, carefully aligned, and the result was
a color photograph in natural colors. This was a very painstaking,
complex work, which demanded absolute accuracy at every step. Each
copy took Prokudin-Gorsky two to three days of work time, and it
was, of course, expensive. But the results were very durable.
Prokudin-Gorsky also published color inserts in each issue of
the Fotograf-Liubitel (An Amateur Photographer), a monthly journal
he was Editor-in-Chief of in 1906–1909. The printing cliches were
produced by Prokudin-Gorsky himself. In September 1908 issue of
Fotograf-Liubitel Prokudin-Gorsky published his famous photograph
of Leo Tolstoy.
Extract from the letter written by S.M.
Prokudin-Gorsky to Leo Tolstoy in 1908.
Not long ago I had the occasion to develop a color photographic
plate which someone had taken of you (I forget the person's name).
The result was extremely bad, since, apparently, the photographer
was not well acquainted with his task.
Photography in natural colors is my specialty, and it is
possible that you might have come across my name by chance in
print. At the present time, after many years of work, I have been
able to achieve an excellent reproduction of images in true colors.
My color slide projections are as well known in Europe as they are
At this time, now that the process of taking photographs using
my method and my plates requires from one to three seconds, I
permit myself to ask your permission for me to visit for one or two
days (keeping in mind the state of your health and the weather),
thereby in order to take several color pictures of you and your
It seems to me that, by reproducing your image in true color and
its surroundings, I will perform a service to the whole world.
These images are everlasting - they do not change. No painted
reproduction can achieve such results.
Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky
Modern reproductions of photographs by
(written by Jan
Hubička in cooperation with Lynn E. Brooks, Walter Frankhauser,
Victor Minachin and John Titchener)
Classical methods of reproducing three color photography are
demanding and require a lot of skill, time and expense. These
factors kept the world from seeing Prokudin-Gorsky images in color.
In 1980, the first book of his photographs Photographs for the
Tsar: The Pioneering Color Photography of Sergei Mikhailovich
Prokudin-Gorskii by Robert Allshouse was published by Dial Press,
New York. A small collection of images from the collection of
Prokudin-Gorsky was exhibited for only the first time in 1986 by
the US Library of Congress.
Producing color images was greatly simplified with the advent of
digital technology. The color images can be composed from scanned
negatives in the computer and then printed as color digital
photographs. However, as a result of movement by the subject during
the time of the three exposures precise registration is also
necessary. A new stage of the research on the collection was
started in the early 1990s by the U. S. Library of Congress, Dr.
Victor Minachin (Russian Academy of Sciences) and others.
For the first
exhibition prepared using modern methods, professional
photographer Walter Frankhauser, contracted by the Library of
Congress, developed a method called digichromatography, to produce
photographs. In his method, performed in Photoshop*, the digital scan of the original negative with
photos made through blue, red and green filters (left) is split
into three separate layers from which the final color composite
will be generated. After overlaying and properly coloring the
layers, the color photograph appears.
The layers are aligned and colored appropriately forming the RGB
(Red, Green, Blue) color composite. The registration process is the
most difficult step.
The composite is cropped to eliminate all but the photographic
area shared in common by all three layers. The cropped color
composite is adjusted overall to create the proper contrast,
appropriate highlight and shadow detail, and optimal color balance.
Final adjustments and retouching may be applied to specific,
localized areas of the composite color image. This will minimize
defects associated with incorrect exposure, aging of the emulsion,
or damage of the original glass plate.
The Library of Congress exhibiton, "The Empire That Was Russia",
was revolutionary not only in the quality of the color
reproduction, but also in making the whole archive of 1,902
negatives available on the internet in high resolution. This
little known collection of Prokudin-Gorsky's work has quickly
gained popularity, and a number of new projects have been started,
to create new color composites. One of these is our exhibition
* Photoshop is registered trademark of
Adobe Systems, Inc.
(written by Jan
Hubička in cooperation with Pavel Scheufler and John
The discovery, by physicist James Maxwell in 1861, that color
photographs could be formed by using red, green and blue filters
(RGB) was the beginning of the development of color photography.
Famous three-color photograph made by James Clerk Maxwell from year
1861 was really just demonstration of his theory. In 1868 Luis
Ducos du Hauron reached practical results.
Most subsequent techniques still produce color either additively,
by combining red, green and blue light, or subtractively, by
eliminating individual colors from white light via pigments of
complementary colors (cyan, magenta and yellow).
In 1891, the physicist Gabriel Lippmann invented an entirely new
method of so-called direct color photography, where a glass plate
was coated with a transparent and ultrafinegrainded silver
emulsion. The uncoated side was exposed to the light, with the
emulsion in contact with a reflecting surface such as mercury. The
incident light was reflected back on itself, causing interference.
This established a standing wave in the emulsion, at half the
wavelength of the incident light, which reacted with the
The deposited silver then reflected light at various multiples
of the original wavelength, giving rise to bright colors; similar
in principle to the way colors appear on a soap-bubble.
Unfortunately the technique was very complex, and required special
equipment for viewing, so it never came into general use. RGB
photography won because it was adequate for most purposes. Gabriel
Lippman however did win a Nobel prize for color photography in 1908
and his method became the basis for modern holography.
A different method is to expose black and white photographic
emulsion through a filter with colored mosaic. When the resulting
black and white diapositive is viewed through the same filter, the
resulting picture is in color, in the same way as in the three
color projection. This method was first patented by Joly in 1893.
His method however led to photographs with a clearly visible color
grid (roughly 200 lines per inch).
The Lumiere brothers introduced the first commercially
successful process of color photography. Their Autochrome process
was patented in 1903, and dominated the market for the next 30
years. The basic principle was identical to the Joly process,
except that the mosaic was constructed by using microscopic colored
starch grains, in a layer of bees-wax, directly onto the
At the same time, there were interesting developments in color
movie film. While projecting a movie, it is easy to project color
separations, by using alternating color filters in the front of the
projector. Such a method had been used since 1908 (Kinemacolor).
Prokudin-Gorsky is known to have experimented with color film in
1912, and his methods were probably similar. In 1922, Technicolor
introduced a photo-mechanical process of printing color film,
(similar to the color Carbro prints used by Prokudin-Gorsky), using
dyes from separate black-and-white films, recorded through red,
green and blue filters. This was the dominant technique for
producing color film in Hollywood, until the 1950's.
The real boom of color photography had to wait for modern color
film. The first one, Kodachrome, introduced by Kodak in 1935, is
still the most stable color material on the market. It contains
three emulsions, each sensitive to different light (red, green and
blue). During the complex development process, the gray silver is
replaced by color pigments (cyan, magenta and yellow), resulting in
a color diapositive.
Today, the most popular color films are based on Agfacolor-Neu,
introduced in 1936. In Agfacolor-Neu, the dyes are directly present
in the emulsion, which significantly simplifies the development
process as well as the “reinvention” of negative. Agfa also
introduced the concept of minilabs, which made the development of
films faster. The main problem of Agfacolor is however the limited
life of the material.
Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky is born in Murom, Vladimir
Nikolay Aleksandrovich (Tsar Nicholas II) is born.
Prokudin-Gorsky studies painting at the Imperial Academy of
Arts; studies chemistry with D.I. Mendeleyev.
Prokudin-Gorsky continues his studies for two more years in
Berlin and Paris.
Prokudin-Gorsky marries Anna Aleksandrovna Lavrova. Apprentices
in photochemical laboratories; becomes familiar with the work of
Adolf Miethe and Edme Jules Maumene.
Construction begins on Trans-Siberian Railroad.
Prokudin-Gorsky returns to Russia.
Reign of Tsar Nicholas II.
Prokudin-Gorsky begins to present the technical results of his
photographic research to the Fifth Department of the Imperial
Russian Technical Society (IRTS). (He would continue these
presentations through 1918)
Prokudin-Gorsky publishes the first in a series of works on the
technical aspects of photography.
Prokudin-Gorsky exhibits his black and white photography at the
Prokudin-Gorsky publishes a booklet about photography with
instant hand cameras.
Prokudin-Gorsky compiles photographic material for a large
illustrated volume of the Manchurian battlefield.
Prokudin-Gorsky becomes editor of the Petersburg journal
Fotograf-liubitel (Amateur Photographer) and serves in this post
until 1909. He writes a series of technical articles on the
principles of color reproduction.
Prokudin-Gorsky receives the gold medal at the International
Exhibition in Antwerp and a medal for Best Work from the Photo Club
in Nice for his color photography.
Prokudin-Gorsky envisions and formulates a plan for the
photographic survey of the Russian Empire, using a new innovative
Prokudin-Gorsky conducts slide presentations of his color
photography innovations for audiences at IRTS, the Petersburg
Photographic Society, and elsewhere in St. Petersburg.
Prokudin-Gorsky photographs Leo Tolstoy at Yasnaya
Prokudin-Gorsky conducts several presentations of his color
slide projections; attracts the attention of The Grand Duke Mikhail
Aleksandrovich, who facilitates an introduction to Tsar Nicholas
Nicholas II invites Prokudin-Gorsky to give a slide
presentation to the Imperial court at Tsarskoye Selo.
Prokudin-Gorsky receives official support to implement his plan to
photographically document the Russian Empire.
Prokudin-Gorsky completes photographic trips along the
Mariinskii Canal system and industrial areas of the Ural
First formal viewing at court by the Tsar of Prokudin-Gorsky's
Prokudin-Gorsky photographs the Volga Region.
Prokudin-Gorsky delivers lecture at the Academy of Arts in
Petersburg entitled Monuments of Antiquity Along the Mariinskii
Canal System and the Upper Volga, and a few words about the
Significance of Color Photography.
Prokudin-Gorsky documents the areas involved in the Napoleonic
campaigns in Russia.
Prokudin-Gorsky documents the Kamsko-Tobol'skii Water Route and
the Oka River.
Official support for Prokudin-Gorsky's documentary project is
Prokudin-Gorsky founds the Biochrome Company, which markets
services in both color photography and photographic printing (black
and white and color)
Official support for Prokudin-Gorsky's documentary project is
briefly resumed; Prokudin-Gorsky documents the Murmansk
Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.
Execution of Tsar Nicholas II and his family, in
Prokudin-Gorsky leaves Russia for Norway, then England.
Prokudin-Gorsky writes a series of articles for the British
Journal of Photography and issued a patent for a camera for colour
Prokudin-Gorsky moves to France
Second World War
Prokudin Gorsky dies in France
Co-workers on the exhibition:
Lynn E. Brooks answered numerous questions about the
collection, helped to write posters, and greatly motivated us in
this work. Verna Curtis contacted or gave us contacts to
many other co-authors of the Prokudin-Gorsky exhibition in U. S.
Library of Congress. Walter Frankhauser prepared 122 color
reproductions for the Library of Congress exhibition, 62 of them
are used in our exhibition. He also helped to clarify poster on
modern reproductions. Eva Hubičková framed number of
photographs and co-worked on choosing the photographs, writing
captions and finishing the posters. Jan Hubička prepared 45
color reproductions for exhibition, translated to Czech and
extended English captions, wrote posters on history of color
photography and modern reproductions, and co-worked on chosing the
photographs. Jiří Kohout did intensive research leading to
adding information to the captions, translated original text from
Russian language and corrected Czech spelling of Russian names.
Harold Leich wrote captions for 60 photographs for Library
of Congress exhibition that are base for our captions and provided
a lot of additional background. Dr. Victor Minachin
wrote posters on three-color photography and historic three-color
projection and printing, created the illustration of color
projection used on the poster and invitation card, and clarified a
number of mysteries concerning captions in Prokudin-Gorsky
collection. Pavel Scheufler provided reproductions of
photographs and corrected the posters on history of color
photography, and made it possible to display color photograph of
Czech Coronation Crown. Marie Šechtlová and Marie
Michaela Šechtlová co-worked on choosing the photographs,
writing captions, invitation card and posters and organized the
work on exhibition. Jean Swetchine sent us a lot of
additional information about his grandfather (Prokudin-Gorsky).
Škrla familly prepared the exhibition rooms. John
Titchener and Eleanor Schlee translated majority of
texts to English and signficantly helped to improve their clarity.
Jakub Troják designed typography of invitation card,
postcards and posters.
We also want to acknowledge the use of the published work of
Professor Svetlana Garanina, who since 1968 has been
researching the history of Prokudin-Gorsky's life and work and who
has discovered and published many important archival documents and
research papers on which our current knowledge of his biography and
of the history of his work is based.
We are very grateful to everyone who helped to realize this
exhibition. All the work was done completely voluntarily without
any financial compensation.
The exhibition is possible only because US Library of Congress has preserved,
digitized in high resolution, and released into the public domain,
all the Prokudin-Gorsky negatives. We also gratefully acknowledge
the support we have received from František Dědič and the Town of Tábor.