Outlet from Emperor Nicholas I Canal to the Main Canal. Golodnaia Steppe


In the late 19th century Grand Duke Nicholas Constantinovich (1850–1918), grandson of Tsar Nicholas I, initiated a development project in Russian Turkestan to create an area for raising cotton, wheat, and livestock in the Golodnaia Steppe (“Hungry Steppe”) by diverting water from the Syr Darya River. This photograph of canal embankments gives some idea of the massive earthworks involved in creating the irrigation system. Shown here is the outlet of the Tsar Nicholas I Canal (which served the grand duke’s estate) from the mainline canal, begun in 1907 and completed in 1913. Although the loess soil is fertile, the bare plain indicates the extent to which agriculture in this area depended on irrigation. 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. In 1911 his travels took him to Turkestan (present-day Uzbekistan and neighboring states), where he photographed traditional culture as well as the development brought about by Russian settlement and investment.

Date Created

Subject Date

Title in Original Language

Выпуск канала Императора Николая I из магистральнаго канала. Голодная степь

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 http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/prok/.

Last updated: September 30, 2016