Khan of the Russian protectorate at the Winter Palace, Saint Petersburg, Russia, Prokudin-Gorskii (1905-1915) Mediadrumimages

By Amy Walters


CAPTIVATING images capture traditional Russia before the reign of Joseph Stalin – when the empire stretched SEVEN-THOUSAND MILES from west to east.

In one image, leader Alim Khan posed for a portrait in 1911 wearing an ocean-blue overall with a delicate purple flower design, black boots and white headwear, which was taken shortly after he became the Emir of Bukharan People’s Soviet Republic – a political state which now forms part of modern day Uzbekistan. In the mid-1800s, Bukhara was protected and ruled by the Russian Empire but when Soviet power was established in 1920, Alim Khan fled the country.

Another image featured three Russian citizens dressed in overalls and special headwear as they gathered around in a circle in front of multiple textiles. Captured by photographer and scientist Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, this image is believed to depict traditional religious proceedings between 1905 and 1915.

Prokudin-Gorskii himself with two friends, Prokudin-Gorskii (1905-1915) Mediadrumimages

Whilst most of the images showcased people of power and wealth, one image featured prisoners looking out through the bars of a zindan – a traditional Central Asian prison – as they were crowded into a snug cell at gun point by a Russian guard. Zindans were essentially a ‘pit in the earth’ with low structure built on top.

The images date between 1905 and 1915 thus giving us an insight into the Russian Empire before Joseph Stalin’s reign began in 1920 which turned Russia into a communist country – a classless society – as part of a Soviet Union and caused the death of millions due to imprisonment.

Prokudin-Gorskii produced this imagery using emerging technological advances in colour photography which included producing multiple prints allowing him to document the largest empire in history.