A lament for lost sartorial options

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Some striking colour portrait photographs by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. In some ways they look like they could have been taken last week, but they were actually all made between 1907 and 1915, just before WWI and the Russian Revolution. The splendid example above is of Alim Khan (1880-1944) the Emir of Bukhara, in 1911. Bukhara was a vassal state of the Russian Empire, though the Emir had absolute authority within its borders. It was absorbed by the Soviet Union in 1920, and Alim Khan fled to Afghanistan.

There’s just something about seeing these long-dead people in colour that connects us to them, and to history in general, in way that hardly any monochrome image can achieve. To make them, Prokudin-Gorskii developed a system of exposing three glass plate negatives rapidly in succession, with a red filter, a green, and finally a blue. These three monochrome negatives could then be projected through a lantern similarly equipped…

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