Railroad Tracks through Desert Plains


In the late 19th century, the Russian Empire acquired large territories in Central Asia that became known as Russian Turkestan (present-day Uzbekistan and neighboring states). Economic development of the region was closely related to the construction of railroads, such as the Trans-Caspian Railway, begun in 1879 and expanded over the next three decades. An important station was the Russian settlement of Chardjuy (now Turkmenabat), located on the Amu-Darya (Oxus) River and founded in 1886 near the site of an ancient town of the same name. The foreground of this photograph shows a thin ribbon of railroad stretching across salt flats in the semi-arid region near Chardjuy. A permanent rail bridge was completed across the Amu-Darya in 1901. 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. Prokudin-Gorskii was particularly interested in recently acquired territories of the Russian Empire such as Turkestan which he visited on a number of occasions, including two trips in 1911. Turkestan appealed to him not only for its rich Islamic culture but also for the transformation brought by Russian settlement, particularly in agriculture.

Date Created

Subject Date

Title in Original Language

Железнодорожный путь, проходящий через пустыню

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