“The Lost Empire: Photographer to the Tsar” Opens May 5 at the Museum of Russian Art


Twenty-three Prokudin-Gorskii photos offer vivid portrait of Russian Empire on eve of World War I and coming Bolshevik Revolution of 1917

MINNEAPOLIS (April 16, 2008) – On Monday, May 5, The Museum of Russian Art will unveil “The Lost Empire: Photographer to the Tsar,” a new exhibition of 23 photographs that offer a haunting glimpse into a lost world – the Russian Empire on the eve of World War I and the coming Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. The exhibition will remain on display in TMORA’s lower gallery through Saturday, Sept. 13.

With the support of Tsar Nicholas II, Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii traveled throughout the vast reaches of the Russian Empire, carefully documenting its people, architecture, landscape and industry. Between 1909 and 1915 – with authority from the Tsar – Prokudin-Gorskii was given access to and completed photographic surveys of 11 regions throughout Russia, many of which officially prohibited photography.

By 1918, the Tsar and his family had been executed, violently and abruptly ending the Russian Empire Prokudin-Gorskii had so carefully documented. Today, these photos offer a rare glimpse into a world gone forever.

“Russia changed dramatically following the Revolution of 1917,” said Judi Dutcher, TMORA director and president. “Our exhibition is intended to provide TMORA visitors with a vivid portrait of this lost Empire, further enhancing their education and understanding of the many historical milestones that have shaped Russia and its culture.”

A chemist by training, Prokudin-Gorskii devoted his career to the advancement of photography. Using an innovative camera of his own design, he captured his subjects in vivid color, mounting a glass plate vertically into the camera and taking a series of three exposures of each subject through a separate red, green and blue color filter. When the exposures were simultaneously projected through a special projector with three lenses, the primary colors would combine on the screen to reveal the subject in its true, vivid colors.

More than 2000 of Prokudin-Gorskii’s glass plates were acquired by the Library of Congress in 1948, and through an innovative process known as digichromatography, the Library created single, colorful images produced from the alignment and layering of the three exposures.

TMORA’s new exhibition will feature specially designed light boxes to illuminate the photos from behind, adhering to the traditions of Prokudin-Gorskii, who originally presented his color images in slide lectures using a light-projection system. Prokudin-Gorskii devoted his career to the advancement of photography, yielding patents for producing color film slides and projecting color motion pictures. He used these technological advancements to document the Russian Empire with the ultimate goal of educating Russian children about their vast and diverse history with his “optical color projections.”

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