Rare Color Photographs from a Century Ago

I have always been fascinated with old photographs. They seem otherworldly and mysterious to me. I like to imagine what it would be like if I could step into that moment. I picture what color the girl’s dress is and what the man smoking the pipe sounds like when he laughs. It’s like time-travel; a privileged glimpse into the lives of people and times long gone. This is why I love these rare color photographs from the early 1900’s Russia and France. They are not retouched, but are actual color photographs at a time when color photography was not common. The bright colors and quality of the images make it difficult to believe that you are looking back more than 100 years in time.

The Russian photographs were taken by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii who completed a photographic survey of the Russian Empire with the support of Tsar Nicholas II. He used a specialized camera to capture three black and white images in quick succession, using red, green and blue filters. These were later combined and projected with filtered lanterns to show near true color images.

An Armenian woman in national costume poses for Prokudin-Gorskii on a hillside near Artvin (in present day Turkey), 1910

Self-portrait of Prokudin-Gorskii on the Karolitskhali River, 1910.

Emir Seyyid Mir Mohammed Alim Khan, the Emir of Bukhara, seated holding a sword in Bukhara, (present-day Uzbekistan), 1910

A boy leans on a wooden gatepost in the Ural Mountains, 1910.

A man and woman pose in Dagestan, ca. 1910.

More of Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii’s beautiful photographs can be viewed here.

The French photos were taken using Autochrome Lumière technology. A technique patented in 1903 by French filmmakers Auguste and Louis Lumière. It utilized a number of emulsion layers (including one consisting of dyed potato starch) to lock in natural color on a permanent glass negative.

Paris Soldiers, 1900s

Market Square, Paris 1900s

Soldier and Cannon, Paris 1900s

French Soldier, 1915

More photos can be found here and here.

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