Sergey Mikhaylovich Prokudin-Gorsky (1863 – 1944) was a Russian chemist and photographer. He is best known for his pioneering work in colour photography, in particular, his colour portrait of Leo Tolstoy. It was this fame that, in 1909, brought him to the attention of Tsar Nicholas II who would provide funding and the authority for Prokudin-Gorsky to document what was early 20th century Russia and which would later be recognised as his most important work.
Using the emerging technological advances that had been made in colour photography, Prokudin-Gorsky set out to document the Russian Empire covering much of its expanse, his ultimate goal to showcase Russia’s vast and diverse history, culture and modernization and to help further unify the various cultures of people through education of each other.
Using a specially adapted railroad car as a darkroom, provided by Tsar Nicholas II and in possession of two permits that granted him access to restricted areas and cooperation from the Empire’s bureaucracy, Prokudin-Gorsky traversed the length and breadth of the Russian Empire between 1909 to 1915 using his three-image colour photography to record more than 10,000 full-colour photographs . While some of his negatives were lost, the majority ended up in the U.S. Library of Congress after his death. Starting in 2000, the negatives were digitised and the colour triples for each subject digitally combined to produce hundreds of high-quality colour images of century-ago Russia
The color process Prokudin-Gorsky worked with required three separate black-and-white exposures, each one taken through either a red, green or blue filter. When the filtered exposures were combined, the result was the full chromatic spectrum.