One thing black & white pictures are good at without any doubt is representing the past. It seems as if it is programmed in our heads that if a movie or a picture is in black and white, that it is old. It simply fits, and not just because photography and movies were in black and white back in the day. It is as if we remember in black & white. And dream in black & white. And past is often quite close to a film noir-like dream. But what happens when you take a look at a picture that is a hundred years old…and in color? Well, here is something special for you.
The photograph you see above was taken in 1910 by the man who is sitting there. His name is Sergey Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorsky and he is the guy who figured out how to take color photographs using black & white photography techniques with red, green and blue filters. And, as we can see, he did, with some support from Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. At first, it seems that there is none of the oldness left, none of that different time or different people. I must admit that, for a while, I thought these people were from a circus. And not a very good one. But then you start to notice things. Details. And it hits you – these photographs are a hundred years old. A hundred!
Interestingly enough, dogs looked the same back then. And flowers, for that matter.
Important people didn’t, however. This was the Emir of Bukhara, which in 1910 was where Uzbekistan is now. Not the first man you’d want to talk to if you could jump back in time, is he? The sword is likely real and not made in China. And, I think, he is also not an actor.
While you go through more of these photographs and read about them here, let me show you what Americans were up to a few decades later (between 1940-1943) – these were sent in by our reader and we enjoyed them immensely. Take a look:
Although these photographs have a taste of Cold War to them that started soon after, although they are a little patriotic in a certain pompous, old way, it is not even the technical quality that is astonishing. They are lit. Deliberately, with studio light and, in fact, in such a way that they would not look out of place in a modern portfolio. Not at all. You may notice some awkward posing and smiles at times, but that is what makes them so charming, so Broadway Musical-ish. And the color, look at the color! It is the sort of look we try to achieve with Lightroom today. Ironically, these photographers – Alfred Palmer and John Vachon – managed to both lit and photograph these scenes in a way that some of us are still learning to do with great modern tools.
And then there are women assembling planes. Not something you see every day, is it? Robots do that now.
Visit Pavel Kosenko’s blog to see and read more about these photographs.