In 1909 Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky, who was already known for a color portrait he had done of Leo Tolstoy, was commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II himself to carry out a groundbreaking photographic survey, which the photographer would later refer to as his life’s work
Prokudin-Gorsky traversed the vast country, from the Caucuses to the Ural Mountains and Siberia in a specially adapted darkroom railroad car. Between 1909 and 1915 the photographer produced over 10,000 color images recording everything he saw.
To craft a color photograph, Prokudin-Gorsky used a camera of his own design, taking three black-and-white exposures through a separate filter of red, green or blue. By combining the filtered exposures Prokudin-Gorsky would get a photograph with a full chromatic spectrum.
After the Communist Revolution, the visionary photographer and his family had to leave Russia in 1918. Upon his departure about half of his negatives were appropriated by the Russian authorities. In 1922 Prokudin-Gorsky and his family took up residence in Paris.
In 1948, Prokudin-Gorsky’s remaining negatives and albums were sold by the photographer’s heirs to the Library of Congress. In 2001, the Library mounted an exhibition, The Empire That Was Russia: The Prokudin-Gorskii Photographic Record Recreated, and has been offering the high-resolution images of the negatives freely online ever since.