The Past As Now: The Photography of Prokudin-Gorskii

Silverwolf has just seen an amazing set of photographs that have had for him the same kind of significance as when he first saw footage of a U.S. high-altitude plane, flying so loftily above California that he could see the entire outline of the State. Then there was his first seen shot of Earth-entire, something that no philosopher before him had ever seen. What would such a viewing have done to those fertile minds?

The photographs in question are those taken by Prokudin-Gorskii of Russian scenes during the years 1907-1915. Due to some triple color technique beyond Silverwolf’s limited wolf-intellect to understand such technological magics, these photos look like they have been taken yesterday with a modern camera, the images are so sharp, and the colors so vivid. And what is so shocking is that it reveals that a century ago, things looked exactly as they look now in their reality.

Those of us weaned on black-and-white imagery of WWII, or worse, the black-and-white cum hurried-marionette footage of WWI with its notorious undercranking, have come to accept from childhood that reality prior to 1946 — the full color reality we have all known since childhood — was of a different caliber. Hitlerism, and the entire world, existed in grainy black-and-white, with fuzzy edges and bad sound quality. But not many years back now, the popularization of some of the American color footage of the War made us realize that it was not so long ago. And then the serieses in color, like America at War, and the release of many super-sharp color photos of Nazi chieftains at official events, made it seem even more temporally proximate to our own time. We stopped fooling ourselves that WWII looked different in reality from Malibu Beach 2002; yes WWII had existed in color, and the colorization made it seem less sinister.

But events a hundred years ago or more, had they really existed in color? It was impossible to believe.  Had the people in those early films really not moved like tabetic marionettes vivified by Benzarene? Of course they had. They were such evil times that men must have had to be different from the folks in “Our Town”.

Prokudin-Gorskii’s photos shatter that pleasant delusion, as they show us Russia in all its blazing glory, an incredibly beautiful land where serfs were held as slaves, and the Czar’s tyranny mulcted the poor masses. Here are young girls, tea plantation managers, remote-living old hearties who must have been crazed by the silence of the woods; and people at their daily toil so arduous that it would have made American part-time workers seem like aristocracy. They all actually existed, and existed in a color realism just as vivid and fresh as our own world. Indeed, our own world, and the cosmos, is now a hundred years older and less fresh than those “youthful” days of the Earth.

Like no other documents he has ever seen, Prokudin-Gorskii’s photos show us that the Past was always as real as the Now.

But what will the Now look like in another hundred years?

Hoooooooooooooooooooooooooooowwwwwwwwww! — Silverwolf

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