Biography of S.M. Prokudin-Gorsky in Brief

This abstract was prepared using the article " SERGEI MIKHAILOVICH PROKUDIN-GORSKY" by S. Garanina, Professor, Department of Book Sciences, Moscow State University of Culture and the Arts

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky was born on August 31, 1863, in the town of Murom, Vladimir Governement. .

According to family legend, S. M. Prokudin-Gorsky was a student at the Alexander Lyceum, although there is no documentary proof of this.

In 1890 he married Anna Aleksandrovna Lavrova (1870-1937), daughter of the well known Russian metallographer, one of the founders of Russian steel cannon manufacture, and active member of the Imperial Russian Technical Society, Alexander Stepanovich Lavrov.

The Imperial Russian Technical Society (IRTS), which was founded at the initiative of St. Petersburg's professors and engineers in 1866, set as its goal "promoting the development of engineering and technical industries in Russia". Virtually all the greatest scientists, engineers and industrialists of Russia were members of the Society at one time or another: A. Butlerov, D. Mendeleev, D. Chernov, P. Iablochkov, A. Popov, A. Krylov, L. Nobel, and many others. The fifth, photographic section of IRTS was created in 1878 at the suggestion of D. I. Mendeleev.

Prokudin-Gorsky became a member of thephotographic section of IRTS in 1898 and at a section meeting delivered a report entitled "On Photographing Falling Stars (Meteor Showers)", which was published on the pages of the Zapiski IRTO.

On August 2, 1901 the "Photozincographic and Phototechnical Studio" of S. M. Prokudin-Gorsky opens in St.Petersburg at 22 Bolshaia Podiacheskaia St.

It was here that what Prokudin-Gorsky would later call his "experimental" chemical laboratory appeared at last. The editorial offices of Fotograf-Liubitel'  (Amateur Photographer) were located here from 1906 through 1909.

Prokudin-Gorsky first provided an account of the technique of preparing color slides using the method of three-color photography on December 13, 1902, and then in January 1905 he presented the assembly with his work on color photography conducted in the course of the last three years in Berlin at the laboratory of Professor Miethe and in St. Petersburg. Then the lecturer showed about 70 slides which he had made abroad and in Russia.

In 1905 Prokudin-Gorsky discovered (i.e. created) a new color substance of complex composition which significantly surpassed the color sensitizing agents which were first used in 1902 by the German chemists Miethe and Traube. In contrast to theirs, Prokudin-Gorsky's compound produced a silver bromide plate equally sensitive to all parts of the color spectrum.

On April 27 and 28, 1906, at the VI International Congress of Applied Chemistry, Prokudin-Gorsky delivered papers on "Observations and Research on Photography in Natural Color" and "Applied Photography in Russia" during which he demonstrated his work.

The perfecting of color photography followed two paths: the first was increasing the exposure speed, which allowed capturing rapidly moving events; the second was increasing the possibility of replicating the pictures. Prokudin-Gorsky made his contribution in each of these directions. He appeared at international congresses on applied chemistry; he participated successfully in international photographic exhibitions and contests; and he was awarded a gold medal in Antwerp "for pictures in color taken directly from nature", and a medal "for the best works" in Nice. The Russian Photographic Society in Moscow elected him as an honorary member together with the brothers Auguste and Louis Lumiere and Professor Miethe, and the Photographic Section of the IRTS elected him as its chairman. In 1906 Prokudin-Gorsky became the editor and publisher of the best periodical on photography in Russia: Fotograf-Liubitel'.

In 1909 the artist photographer was invited to demonstrate his works to the Tsar at Tsarskoe Selo where the Prokudin-Gorsky gave him an account of his views on various applications which the work might have. " Your Majesty might also be interested, perhaps, in seeing from time to time the true Russia and her ancient monuments, and in the same way also the beauties of the diverse nature of our great Motherland".

The Tsar reacted with great approval to his words. Now the artist photography had the real possibility of realizing his grandiose plan "to capture all the splendors of our far flung native land in natural colors".  From this point forward his mastery, energy and wealth were devoted to this plan.

By imperial order the master was presented with a specially equipped Pullman car; for work on waterways the Ministry assigned him a steamship which was fully manned and a small steamship capable of traveling shallow waters; and for the Chusovaia River – a motorized boat. For pictures of the Urals and the mountain ridge of the Urals in Ekaterinburg a Ford motorcar was sent which was equipped for rough roads. Documents issued by the Tsar's chancellery guaranteed the master access to all locations of the Russian Empire, and local administrations were obliged to offer him all possible assistance for successful picture taking.

After finishing each expedition, on which as a rule he spent the summer, Prokudin-Gorsky put the material he had gathered into final form, showed his work to the Minister of Communications, and then showed his slides at Tsarskoe Selo.

The artist photographer planned in ten years to take ten thousand photographs of the splendors of Russia from Finland to the Pacific Ocean. From a purely technical standpoint he was already capable of accomplishing such a grandiose undertaking: he had achieved the high color sensitivity of his plates which permitted taking instant photos, and he could produce plates in sufficient quantity and successfully replicate the images he acquired. He had extensive experience with mobile field photos, since he had been on many expeditions as a member of the Imperial Russian Geographical Society.

However his first year of work already demonstrated that to accomplish what he had conceived by using his own resources would be impossible. The cost of special equipment, chemicals, plates, photographic paper, and of paying assistants meant that each photo cost 10 rubles, and that 1000 photos made each year cost 10,000 rubles. The expeditions, refinement and description of the material photographed did not leave time for other income-producing work, and there were three children in the family.


In order to have the money for continuing to take pictures and to perfect his new discovery – a color movie camera – Prokudin-Gorsky located financial partners and together with S. O. Maksimovich in January 1913 organized a "trust partnership under the name of the firm of S. M Prokudin-Gorsky and Company".


Somewhat later that year Prokudin-Gorsky organized a joint-stock company, Biochrome, which acquired all the property of the firm of Prokudin-Gorsky. The joint stock company Biochrome was established, according to its by-laws,  for the conduct and development of the activities of the photo-zincographic studios in St. Petersburg belonging to the firm of S.M. Prokudin-Gorsky and Co., for applying the discoveries of S.M. Prokudin-Gorsky, S.O. Maksimovich and other inventors in the field of color photography and color cinematography and also color and any other type of printing…


In Paris, summing up the result of the work done in Russia, Prokudin-Gorsky listed what he had photographed. We cite it in whole:


1) - The Mariinsky Waterway;

2) - Turkestan;

3) - Bukhara (old);

4) - The Urals, as regards industry;

5) - The entire Chusovaia River from its origins;

6) - The Volga from its origins to Nizhny Novgorod;

7) - Monuments related to the 300th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty;

8) - The Caucasus and the Dagestan District;

9) - The Mugan Steppe;

10) - Locales related to recollections of the War of 1812 (The Fatherland War);

11) - The Murmansk Railroad.

In addition there are many photos of Finland, Ukraine, and places of natural beauty.

Prokudin-Gorsky achieved new success as he continued his research: he patented a method for preparing inexpensive color film slides, and together with Maksimovich got patents on color cinematography in Germany, England, France and Italy.

The beginning of World War I forced him to abandon photographing for his collection almost completely and to work on military matters: censorship of cinematographic film from abroad, analysis of photo chemicals, study of photography from airplanes, and so forth.


Photographs from the Collection of the Splendors of Russia were shown in Russia for the last time on March 12 and 19, 1918, in the Nicholas Hall of the Winter Palace at evening gatherings called "The Wonders of Photography" organized by the People's Commissariat for Education.


Soon after the October Revolution Prokudin-Gorsky was appointed Professor of the Photo and Film Institute specially created by order of A. V. Lunacharsky. However, he soon left Russia, in 1918.


Traveling via Finland and Norway, Prokudin-Gorsky ended up in England, where he continued his experiments creating color film for cinematographic pictures. Here in 1920 he married his colleague, Maria Fedorovna Shchedrina, and they had a daughter.


Having arrived in Paris after his wanderings, where at this time his first family had already come from Russia, the emigre Prokudin-Gorsky set up a photo studio together with his sons, who had inherited their father's profession, and his daughter Ekaterina. The studio was named Elka [Yolka] after the nickname of his younger daughter from his second marriage. Early in the 1930s Prokudin-Gorsky left the studio business to take up educational activities. The studio, now called Gorsky Brothers, continued its activities. The family has preserved a copy of a splendid color album of the national pavilions at the Paris World Fair of 1937 which the brothers Michel and Dimitri Procoudine Gorsky had taken using their father's methods. Not long ago the album was reproduced in facsimile by a publishing company in Paris.


Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky died September 27, 1944, in Paris at the Ìaison russe. He is buried in the Russian cemetery of Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois.



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