You’ve seen several color photos of the distant past on my blog lately, but this one is different. This view of three Russian peasant girls from the town of Kirillov is actually a color photograph–not colorized, not a chromolithograph, and not “remastered” using modern technology. This super-high-definition picture was taken about 1910 by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky, a chemist who lived in late Imperial Russia and who pioneered early color photography. The picture was taken as part of an official assignment that Prokudin-Gorsky was charged with, to document rural life in the distant parts of Russia through photography, which he did from 1909 to 1915.

Kirillov is a small town even today, only about 8,000 residents. It’s located on the Sheksna River which flows into the Volga. Note the very vivid colors of the girls’ dresses, and also note what they’re holding, dishes of what appear to be dye materials. Culturally, Russia has always been a collision-point of cultures, principally Eastern European and Scandinavian. I’m taken by how these costumes resemble traditional Norwegian peasant dress of the same era, which has crystallized into the modern tradition of the bunad. The weather-beaten wooden house behind them is also reminiscent of many peasant farmhouses in Scandinavia.

These old super-detailed pictures are amazing and thought-provoking. We’re so used to seeing the past in grainy black and white, so staring into the eyes of these girls who lived over 100 years ago is an eerie experience. There’s also a huge gulf of history here. The Kirillov region, like most areas in western Russia, suffered terribly during the Soviet period and World War II. Prokudin-Gorsky, who took the picture, fled Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. He died in Paris in 1944.

I love these great old pictures. More of them to come!

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