Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Coloring the Russian Empire One Photograph at a Time

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Coloring the Russian Empire One Photograph at a Time

Article excerpt

Today taking color photographs is as easy as picking up a cell phone and snapping a picture. In the late 1800s, during the earliest days of photography, however, color photographs required hand painting the color on black-and-white prints. A few decades later, in 1908, physicist and inventor Gabriel Lippmann won the Nobel Prize in physics "for his method of reproducing colors photographically based on the phenomenon of interference." However, processes such as Lippmann's were cumbersome and required the use of poisonous chemicals such as mercury.

Others began to explore the creation of color photographs using different methods, such as filters. With filter cameras an image was taken first with a red filter, then with a green filter, and finally with a blue filter. These "negatives" were laid one on top of the other and used to create the color positive.

One photographer who embraced the use of filters was Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii, a Russian chemist who spent much of his life exploring and trying to improve photography. Prokudin-Gorskii sent a letter to Leo Tolstoy asking for permission to do a photographic portrait of the nearly 80-year-old famous writer. In the letter, Prokudin-Gorskii stated he only needed one to three seconds to complete the photograph, something that would not overwhelm the aging author. The image of Tolstoy helped make the photographer famous and led to an assignment that would consume much of the next few years: Czar Nicholas II accepted the photographer's proposal for a photographic survey of the Russian empire. …

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