Thursday, January 17, 2008

Tsarist Russia in Color!

In my Russian history class today, the professor showed some photographs in color from between 1907 to 1915. It was incredible.

There is the conscious knowledge that the past was in color, and then there is the reality of it. This picture was the first one shown, and it struck me as reminiscent of towns in the western US that are not quite ghost towns, but are largely unchanged from their time. The towns did not fade to that state, they have just remained that way. Fascinating.
This is another one the professor showed, and for all intents and purposes this is a photograph of a medieval town. The dilapidation, the smallness and the density and the centrality of the church, all of this is incredible, and feels like it should be rendered in wood blocks or cinematic sepia. To see it with the same pallet as one sees the world today is (edit:I originally left this blank. I'm still searching for the right adjective, since "awesome" has lost all significance).

The whole site is great, and worth checking out. I heartily recommend this, and not just for the historical significance, but because the professor lit up at the sight of these photos, photos he has shown to many a class before, and photographs he still minds wonder in. Historians have a great giddiness to them when the past comes alive, and these pictures achieve that effect better than most anything. Enjoy.

(For those explanation minded, the whole process is detailed, and the photographs are a bit of a conceit. Originally, the images were taken and projected through filters. Digital technology is used to make the composite images, which aims at replicating the effect of the productions. I'll still treat the end result as true to life, since the images are powerful for exactly that reason. This is a world photographed in color before the world was photographed in color. Still incredible.)

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