Seen here are three beggars in Samarkand, huddled in the sun for warmth against a massive stone wall. The two men wear turbans and colorful padded robes, while the woman is in a tattered robe, with a well-worn cloak over her head and shoulders. Each has a simple wooden staff. As an important trading and religious center, Samarkand would have offered ample opportunities for begging. However, the gnarled faces and tense expressions of the beggars suggest anything but a secure existence. The large granite blocks and the remnants of ceramic tile decoration on the right indicate that the scene is at the base of one of the city’s Islamic monuments. The image is by Russian photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863–1944), who used a special color photography process to create a visual record of the Russian Empire in the early 20th century. Some of Prokudin-Gorskii’s 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. He was interested in recently acquired territories of the Russian Empire such as Turkestan (present-day Uzbekistan and neighboring states), which he visited on a number of occasions, including a trip from February to April 1911. Turkestan appealed to him not only for its Islamic architecture but also for ethnic types and scenes from traditional life.
Title in Original Language
Type of Item
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 http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/prok/.
Last updated: September 30, 2016