Primrose: Early Colour Photography in Russia

Also on show at The Photographers’ Gallery at the moment is Primrose: Early Colour Photography in Russia. I love learning about history so this series already intrigued me. They provided some great information about the period and what this development of photography meant to the people of Russia. Colour started to appear widely in Russian Photography in the 1860s, at around the same time as in Europe. This was due to hand colouring of photographic prints with watercolour and oil, either by the photographer or by artists. These were mostly individual or family portraits which people ordered as keepsakes. They became an important part of domestic interior. People wanted to see their own image in colour and to give it a painterly character.


Stalin, Dmitri Baltermants

Hand colouring of early photographs also allowed for correction of faults in the prints, including those produced on albumen paper. Over time albumen paper yellows. In order to hide this, photographers applied green, pink, and other tones and used watercolour, gouache, oil and, later, arriline dycs. Sometimes during this process, foilage or ornaments would be added to the image.

The photographic documentation of life in the Russian empire in the early 20th century became a government mission largely because Tsar Nicholas II and his family loved photography. The tsar even granted an audience to the photographer Sergei Prokudin-Gorksy.


V. Yankovsky, V. Kodlubovich, I. Ilyin and Ivan Brezanov

I love the incredible detail in these photographs and prints. They capture a moment in history and then enhance certain areas through painting over areas. They are very intricate and delicate. I particularly like a set of images of soldiers by V. Yankovsky, V. Kodlubovich, I. Ilyin and Ivan Brezanov. They are standing in a very serious and professional way, but made to look like children’s toys when painted in such bold and vibrant colours, particularly the red.

Double Portrait in Fancy Dress by Alexander Eihenwald caught my eye. Unfortunately, I can’t find a good quality picture of it. It was produced in 1883 and is an albumen print which was also painted. Photographs of these images do not do them justice. You need to seem them in person to really appreciate the colour. The colours jump out of the frame and represent the fun and childish nature of fancy dress. It shows a lighter side to an average family’s life in Russia at the time.


Bridge Construction 1880-1890s, Dmitry Yezuchevsky, Silver Gelatin Paint (painted)


Oreaanda, Crimea 1910s, I. Semionov, Offprint

What drew me towards these two images was the strength and vibrancy of the colours. The trees in Oreaanda are in such a luscious green; they really bring the scenery to life. With the Bridge Construction, it’s the flowing water you focus on. It is so vivid and stunning, while at the same time smooth and soft. This softness and flow contrasts with the rough and busy rock surfaces. They are solid and should dominate the image due to their large structure. But, the unforgettable blue of the water takes the spotlight here.

This exhibition was an incredibly interesting insight into Russian history through the constantly developing method of photography. It was great to see moments from ordinary people’s lives being captured. I would highly recommend giving this free show a visit so that you can see the beauty of these ornate pieces for yourself.

On show until 19th October 2014

The Photographers’ Gallery:


Rain, Dmitri Baltermants

This entry was published on October 15, 2014 at 10:00 am. It’s filed under Artists, Exhibitions and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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