Desert Plant


Many varieties of desert plants flourished in the semi-arid regions of Russian Turkestan (present-day Uzbekistan and neighboring states). Shown here is a calligonam in bloom, photographed alongside the road between ancient Merv (now Mary) and the new Russian settlement of Chardjuy (present-day Turkmenabat, Turkmenistan), founded in 1886. Despite problems with color alignment, the photograph captures both the colors and the remarkable shadows of the plant on the sand. 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 parts of the empire. Prokudin-Gorskii was 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 Islamic culture but also for the transformation brought by Russian settlement, particularly in agriculture. Prokudin-Gorskii often photographed plants to demonstrate the richness of his color process.

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Subject Date

Title in Original Language

Пустынные растения

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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: July 9, 2015