July 01, 2020

Journeys through the Russian Empire

Journeys through the Russian Empire
Left: Solovetsky Transfiguration Monastery west wall with Korozhnaya Tower and Church of the Icon of the Virgin, Succor to All Who Grieve. Southwest view. Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky, 1916. Right: Solovetsky Transfiguration Monastery west wall. From left: Korozhnaya Tower, icon workshop and Church of the Icon of the Virgin, Succor to all Who Grieve (cupolas removed in Soviet period), Superior’s Building, Chapel of Saint Alexander Nevsky, Dormition Tower. Southwest view. William Brumfield, June 29, 1999.

Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky traveled throughout Russia prior to the Revolution, photographing churches and mosques, railways and monasteries, towns and remote natural landscapes. His images are now archived at the Library of Congress. William Brumfield has recreated Prokudin-Gorsky’s journeys and photographed those same sites today and the photos are laid out side by side int his new book – a testament to two brilliant photographers whose work prompts and illuminates, monument by monument, questions of conservation, restoration, and cultural identity and memory. 

In terms of its circumstances, Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky’s final expedition was also his grimmest. With the outbreak of World War I on July 28, 1914, Russia underwent a draconian transition to a war footing. For Prokudin-Gorsky this would mean an increase in travel restrictions and a lessening of financial and logistical support. Yet, unexpectedly, support was renewed in 1916 when he received a commission to photograph construction during the summer along the new railroad to the northern ice-free port of Romanov-on-Murman (now Murmansk), which was to serve as a depot for allied war materiel shipped to Russia forces. The strategic project lasted from 1914 to the spring of 1917, when the rail link was connected to Petrograd.

Although Prokudin-Gorsky’s primary purpose was to photograph construction related to the railroad, he also photographed the area’s few towns and their churches. Among the towns was Petrozavodsk (“Peter’s factory”), founded in September 1703, just four months after St. Petersburg. In the first image in this chapter, the panoramic view toward the northeast, taken from Golikovka Station, includes the white churches and administrative buildings of the central part of town, as well as the area of wooden houses to the southwest of the Alexandrovsky Factory, whose red metal roofs are just visible.

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