This sleepy village, obviously in Russia, is called Kem, and it’s located in the province of Karelia, very far north and not far from the border between Russia and Finland. Though it could easily be the modern day, in fact this picture is 100 years old. It was taken in 1916 by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky, a Russian photographer who specialized in early all-color photos of the Russian countryside taken during the 1900s and 1910s. This picture is not colorized or digitally manipulated at all, so far as I know. This is really how the town of Kem looked in 1916, and it’s amazing to see so vivid and detailed a view of that long vanished world.
Kem’s history goes back to the 15th century, but it could be older than that. The town’s wooden cathedral, which I believe is the larger building to the right, was built in the 1710s and remains a remarkable example of the kind of church architecture that was common in Russia at that time–and which was lucky to have survived the Revolution. Kem was established as a military center in medieval and early modern times, and that function continued into the 20th century. The Soviets established an air base at Kem that was part of their border defense system. It was in this capacity that Korean Air Lines Flight 902, a wayward Boeing 707 that mistakenly strayed into Soviet airspace in 1978, ultimately wound up at Kem, after having been shot at by Soviet fighters and eventually forced down. The air base was evidently abandoned not long after the fall of Communism.
I love old photos like this, especially of faraway corners of the world. It’s amazing to think that as this picture was taken, World War I was raging in the trenches and Woodrow Wilson was running for re-election. That year, 1916, was the last full year of Imperial Russia. The world was about to change around this small Karelian town.