The Russian Empire in Color

Before there was such a thing as color film, a Russian photographer figured out a way to project the equivalent of color slides. His work can be seen in an online exhibition at the Library of Congress.

Off-topic for this blog? Bear with me.

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944) was commissed by the government of the last tsar, Nicholas II, to travel the Russian Empire taking pictures of people, buildings, bridges, and other sights. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 overthrew the tsar, and Prokudin-Gorskii left for Paris the next year, taking many of his negatives with him.

When we have looked at too many sepia-tone photographs and old, herky-jerky black-and-white movies, we can almost forget that people a century ago lived in a colorful world too. You can see old Russia (and parts of Central Asia) in full color in these pictures.

Oh yes, the Russian royal family’s personal physician was Dr. Sergei Botkin, who was gunned down along with them by the Communists in 1918. Dr. Botkin’s son, Gleb, 17, would have been there too, except for a transportation foul-up that left him in another town.

Gleb Botkin eventually came to the United States and made a career as a commercial artist and writer. Although one branch of the Orthodox Church has canonized Tsar Nicholas II as a saint, the picture Botkin gives of him and his family in his memoir The Real Romanovs could be summarized as “nice people, but clueless.”

In 1939 Botkin founded his own Pagan religious group, the Church of Aphrodite, first in Long Island, N.Y., and then in Charlottesville, Va., after he moved there. The “church” ended with his death in the mid-1960s, but at least one member, W. Holman Keith, was connected with subsequent Pagan bodies such as Feraferia, the Church of the Eternal Source, and the Church of All Worlds.