Thu, 04 Mar 2021

The people and spectacular cityscapes of tsarist Georgia captured in vivid color by a world famous photographer. Visitors to a spring in Borjomi between 1905 and 1912. Some in the group have cups in hand after drinking the "therapeutic" water the town is world famous for.

This is one of more than 100 images made by the Russian photographer Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky on the territory of today's Georgia -- then a part of the Russian Empire. The astonishing color photos were made shortly before Vladimir Lenin's revolutionaries seized power in Russia in 1917 and, later, sent their conquering Red Army to impose communist rule over the Caucasus.

Boys wearing military caps squint into the evening sun as Prokudin-Gorsky works in Gagra.

Prokudin-Gorsky (1863-1944) first traveled through the Caucasus with his camera in 1905, then returned to the sun-drenched region in 1912 as one of the greatest early practitioners of color photography.

A freshly caught tub gurnard fish, which Prokudin-Gorsky called a "sea rooster," in Batumi

Prokudin-Gorsky perfected a complex early method of color photography that required three separate images of each scene to be shot, with color filters placed over the lens. When the three black-and-white photos were sandwiched together and had red, green, and blue light shone through them, a color image could be projected.

Workers prepare bottles of Borjomi's fizzy, slightly salty mineral water for transport.

Although he worked in at least 16 countries, more than one-quarter of the photos Prokudin-Gorsky took outside of his native Russia were made on the territory of today's Georgia.

Tbilisi (known internationally as Tiflis until 1936) photographed from St. David's Church. The population of the city when this photo was taken more than a century ago was about 160,000. A man holding some clippers poses next to windmill palms near Batumi. Fibers from the palms can be used for making rope, sacks, and coarse cloth. A white-bearded mullah with a group of his students near Batumi. The Black Sea city was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1547 and many local groups converted to Islam before Batumi was retaken by Russian and Georgian forces in 1878. A view over Sukhumi with some steamships anchored in its harbor A popular spring in a forest likely near Borjomi. The spring is covered in graffiti, mostly people's names. The Novy Afon monastery, which was built in the late 1800s by Russian monks. The view is looking south down the Black Sea coastline toward Batumi. A worker poses in a grove of bamboo trees near Batumi. With its balmy, subtropical climate, various exotic crops could be grown along the Black Sea coast that would not survive elsewhere in the Russian Empire. Bamboo was used largely to make furniture. Bamboo trunks lay inside steam tubes in a workshop near Batumi. After steaming, the bamboo would soften enough to be curved into the shapes needed to make furniture. A Georgian woman poses in her finery at an unknown location. Oil storage tanks stand in the baking sun in Batumi. The city was booming economically after a pipeline -- the world's longest at the time -- was completed in 1906 that ran 885 kilometers from the abundant oil fields of Baku, the Azerbaijani capital, to Batumi. Tankers in the Black Sea port then shipped the oil products to Western markets. A man pauses mid-cigarette next to a crop of plants in the Batumi Botanical Gardens. A tidy homestead along a "highway" running toward the Black Sea coastline. The photo was taken from a hilltop overlooking the village known today as Bzyb, in Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia region. 'Study of a girl' on a bright summer day A clifftop house in Tbilisi with what appears to be a precarious pathway leading down to the river and a boat. A pipe on the right is dribbling wastewater into the Mtkvari River. Boats sit idle along the seashore near Batumi.

After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, Prokudin-Gorsky fled Russia and eventually settled in Paris.

Soon after his death in 1944, the U.S. Library Of Congress purchased 1,902 images from the great photographer's relatives -- including 139 taken on the territory of today's Georgia.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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