Bashkir Switchman


In 1909 and 1910, Russian photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863–1944) traveled extensively in the territory around the Ural Mountains, where he photographed railroad installations, factories, urban settings, and natural landscapes. In the summer of 1910 he traveled in his special railroad car along the Samara-Zlatoust Railroad (built in 1885–90; now the Ufa-Chelyabinsk line), subsequently a link in the Trans-Siberian Railway through the southern Urals. Seen here is a Bashkir switch operator and guard on a track section near the settlement at Ust-Katav (in present-day Chelyabinsk Oblast). The man is probably from a Bashkir village identified elsewhere in the albums as “Ekh’ia.” Although a village of this precise name is not recorded, evidence suggests that it is Iakhino (in present-day Bashkortostan), located near the railroad between Sim and Ust-Katav. Wearing a Bashkir felt hat, the smiling figure has a belt with various essentials: a tin cup, a long knife, and a simple horn for signaling. He stands at attention for the lengthy exposure. Prokudin-Gorskii was interested in the ethnic variety found in the region and took numerous photographs of Bashkirs. In the background are weathered karst cliffs covered with conifer trees. Prokudin-Gorskii used a special color photography process to create a visual record of the Russian Empire in the early 20th century. Some of his photographs date from about 1905, but the bulk of his work is from between 1909 and 1915, when, with the support of Tsar Nicholas II and the Ministry of Transportation, he undertook extended trips through many different parts of the empire.

Date Created

Subject Date

Title in Original Language

Стрелочник башкир

Type of Item

Physical Description

Glass negative (presented as a digital color composite)


  • Prokudin-Gorskii’s photographic work survives primarily in two forms: 1,901 black-and-white triple-frame glass plate negatives, made with color separation filters, which Prokudin-Gorskii used to make color prints and lantern slides; and 12 albums of sepia-tone prints, made from the glass negatives, which Prokudin-Gorskii compiled as a record of his travels and studies. The Library of Congress purchased the glass plate negatives and the albums from the Prokudin-Gorskii family in 1948. In 2004, the Library of Congress had digital color composites made from all the surviving glass negatives using a software algorithm to automatically align the color components. As with most historical photographs, title and subject identifications are corrected and enhanced through new research. Current information on the collection is at

Last updated: September 28, 2016