Fat Sheep. Golodnaia Steppe


Located to the southeast of the Kyzyl Kum Desert, Golodnaia Steppe (“Hungry Steppe”) is composed of the loess variety of soil suitable for grass and small shrubs under semi-arid conditions. The region, some 10,000 square kilometers in size, has a harsh continental climate: cold in the winter and extreme heat in the summer. Shown here are fat-tailed sheep, which were well-adapted to the local conditions. They could be bred both for meat and for wool used in carpets and blankets. 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 he made two trips to an area of Central Asia then known as Turkestan (present-day Uzbekistan and neighboring states), where he photographed traditional culture as well as the results of Russian development. A prime example was a project sponsored by Grand Duke Nicholas Constantinovich (1850-1918), grandson of Nicholas I, to create an area for raising cotton, wheat, and livestock in the Golodnaia Steppe by diverting water from the Syr-Darya River.

Date Created

Subject Date

Title in Original Language

Курдючныя овцы. 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