Birthday anniversary of Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky, photographer, chemist, inventor, publisher, teacher and public figure

30 August 1863

August 18 (30), 1863, in the town of Murom, Vladimir province, was born Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky - photographer, chemist, inventor, a member of the Russian Geographical and Russian Technical Societies, author of unique color photographs of pre-revolutionary period in the history of Russia.

Sergei spent his childhood at the family estate Funikova Mount, near Kirzhach. Then he was sent to study at the famous Alexander Lyceum of St. Petersburg, but in 1886 he quitted, not having completed the course. From October 1886 to November 1888, Sergei attended lectures on natural sciences at the Physics and Mathematics Faculty of St. Petersburg University. From September 1888 to May 1890, he was a student of the Imperial Military Medical Academy, which he had not finished either. In May 1890, Prokudin-Gorsky joined the Demidov poor house of workers.

Patronized by his father-in-law Alexander Stepanovich Lavrov, Major General of Artillery, known metallurgist, Director of the Association of bell, copper and steel mills in Gatchina, Prokudin-Gorsky joined the board of a large company, and became one of the senior staff.

In 1898, as a member of the photographic department of the Imperial Russian Technical Society, Sergei Mikhailovich made a presentation "On photographing of falling stars (stellar rains)." From that time on, he was involved in the organization of courses in practical photography under the IRTS, published his first works on the technical aspects of photography.

In the late summer of 1901, in St. Petersburg, Prokudin-Gorsky opened a photo-zincographic and photo-technical workshop, which later housed the laboratory and the editorial office of the "Amateur Photographer" journal. In December 1902, the inventor announced the creation of color slides by the method of three-color photography of A. Miethe, under whose direction he studied at the School of photo-mechanics in Charlottenburg. In 1905, Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky patented the sensitizer which was composed the way that the silver-bromide plate was equally sensitive to the entire color spectrum. Prokudin-Gorsky’s sensitizer was superior in quality compared to the developments of foreign chemists.

In May 1908, in Yasnaya Polyana, Sergei Mikhailovich took the famous color photographic portrait of Leo Tolstoy. In the spring of 1909, Prokudin-Gorsky met Nicholas II: at the end, the emperor approved the idea of the photographer to make color photographs of the Russian life of the time.

The first expedition of Prokudin-Gorsky was timed to the 200th anniversary of the Mariinsky Waterway and ran from St. Petersburg almost up to the Volga. In autumn 1909, the photographer surveyed the north of thee industrial Urals; in 1910, he made two trips along the Volga. In the summer of 1911, Prokudin-Gorsky was photographing ancient monuments in Kostroma and Yaroslavl province. In spring and autumn of 1911, the photographer visited the Trans-Caspian region and Turkestan.

In Samarkand, for the first time in the history, he tried out color photography. From March to September 1912, Prokudin-Gorsky made two photo expeditions to the Caucasus. He captured the areas related to the Patriotic War of 1812 (from Maloiaroslavets to Vilna). 

He photographed Ryazan, Suzdal, construction of the Kuzminskaya and Beloomutovskaya dams on the river Oka. In 1909-1915, Prokudin-Gorsky traveled over much of Russia, photographing views of cities, architecture, scenes of everyday life. All the work, except for transportation costs, was done at the expense of Sergei Mikhailovich. The work resulted in hundreds of color photographs, each of which is a unique document of its era.

Back in 1913, Prokudin-Gorsky set up joint-stock company to improveme color cinematography. At the beginning of the First World War, Sergei Mikhailovich was shooting chronicles of the war, and later taught pilots aerial photography, advised the Defense Ministry on both photography and filming.

After the October Revolution of 1917, Prokudin-Gorsky joined the organizing committee of the Higher Institute of Photography and Phototechnique.

In 1918, Sergei Mikhailovich emigrated from the RSFSR. At first, the photographer lived in Norway, then moved to England, where he continued to work on the development of color film. From 1921, Prokudin-Gorsky lived in France, where later the members of his family moved from Russia. Due to lack of funds, the idea to create a color film by 1923 ultimately failed. Up to 1936, Sergei Mikhailovich lectured at various events of the Russian community in France, showing his pictures.

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky died on September 27, 1944, in Paris. He was buried at the Russian cemetery in Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois.

Lit.: Гаранина С. П. Выдающийся деятель фотографии: памяти С. М. Прокудина-Горского / С. Гаранина, С. Прокудин-Горский // Фотография. № 4. 1994. С. 29-30; Гаранина С. П. Л. Н. Толстой на цветном фото / С. Гаранина // Наука и жизнь. № 8. 1970. С. 97-99; Записки Русского Технического общества. 1908, авг.; Краткая биография С. М. Прокудина-Горского [Электронный ресурс] // Наследие С. М. Прокудина-Горского. 2019. URL:; Никитин В. А. Рассказы о фотографах и фотографиях. Л., 1991. С. 47-71.

Based on the Presidential Library’s materials:

Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky (1863–1944): [digital collection].