Saturday, May 21, 2011

A color photo from 1911

Here is the Emir of Bukhara, Alim Khan (1880-1944), in a photo taken in 1911.

This is just one of a rich collection of images from the Russian empire, called the Prokudin-Gorskii Photographic Record, now housed in the Library of Congress and available for viewing online.

The photograph was made by shooting three plates in quick succession using red, green, and blue filters. Originally they were intended to be projected by lantern slides using the same color filters. Technicians were able to digitally scan and recombine the plates into the image you see here. Color photography was thus possible long before it appeared elsewhere.

Empire that was Russia: Process
Pictures of Ethnic Diversity
Previously on GJ: Early Color Photos

Thanks, Kay!


~ Rebecca Harbison said...

I'm fond of this technique, since I'm a planetary astronomer. Most the pretty space pictures we get from telescopes and space probes are taken using this technique -- taking digital photos in several filters then combining them. Of course, we don't always use wide-band blue, green and red filters. We might pick out a narrow wavelength of light because it means something (a H-alpha filter picks out the specific red color of hot hydrogen gas) or even go outside of visible light.

Ernest Friedman-Hill said...

That is amazingly cool; it looks as if it could have been taken today. Gives a whole new outlook on history.

Tom said...

Hi James
Catching up on your posts. On that charcoal drawing you did of yourself as a pirate, was it done with vine charcoal or charcoal pencil?
Sorry nice drawing by the way.

Unknown said...

Hi james!

This is totally of-topic, but I'll post it anyway. I've been wanting to learn how to draw for years now but don't know where to start. I've decided to start drawing simple geometric forms in space and tillt them around in perspective untill i can grasp this very well before i do anything harder, i'm thinking of complementing that exercise with some life drawing to learn how to find edges and relationships, my question is: is this a sane idea or should i do something else?

sorry for beeing oftopic, you can go ahead and delete this post at any time

Anonymous said...

It's funny, my first gut reaction to the photo is that it can't be from 1911, because things didn't look like that back then - all the photos from that period show the world in black and white, so it couldn't possibly be so colourful!

Reminds me of a Calvin & Hobbes strip, where Calvin's father claims that the world was actually black and white in the old days.

Moish said...

Yah right, it's just you in one of your costumes making a reference photo.

pecunium said...

I've loved these photos for quite some time. I'm a photographer, and have been for 25 years. I've probably chased down all sorts of historic images and processes.

This, actually, is sort of how Technicolor works, and why it doesn't fade over time.

I say sort of because there are several points to the history of technicolor, but all of it is on the basic principal of different B&W sensitive films, and recombination. Technicolor I used two filters, and two film stocks. Technicolor II used three filters, and two film stocks, in a completely different system, with much better color fidelity, and much sharper images.

Steve LeCouilliard said...

Wow. That's almost kind of unsettling. Some of those pictures really do look like they could have been taken today. I'm used to a black and white filter of antiquity when I look at images of the past. Being confronted with these is like stepping out of a time machine.