Prokudin-Gorskii Visits Topornia

Girl with Strawberries

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863–1944) was a famous pioneer in the art of photography during the early 20th century in Russia. Using his background in chemistry, he was able to give color to images that were initially black and white by utilizing a special technique that he coined himself.1 He begun his career in photography in 1905, however the majority of the pictures he took are dated between 1908 and 1915.3 This was made possible through the support by Tsar Nicholas II and the Ministry of Transportation.1

The image above was taken in the small town of Topornia which is located on the banks of Silvers Lake.2 This image features a young, Russian girl that is garbed in traditional clothing wore by peasants at the time this photograph was taken. She is showcasing a plate of wild strawberries that she had collected herself. This image was one in a series conducted by Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii that sought to reveal the lives of the ‘common folk’.2 In his overarching goal of exploring the Russian Empire as a whole, he wanted to interact with the citizenry and gain a grasp of their livelihoods. If you look closely at this image, it is apparent that the town of Topornia is suffering economically due to the collapsing buildings in the background. Keeping this in mind, the girl herself seems to be well kept and fed – this suggests that she and her family may not be experiencing such hardships as the rest of the town.2

After taking a look at this image, several questions arise. These include:

  • What was happening economically during this time period?
  • What was this girl, and her family, doing to avoid such an economic disaster?
  • How long and to what extent did this affect the rest of the Russian Empire?
  • Did Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii capture any more pictures of this economic upheaval and its effects on the peasantry?

All of these questions still inquire further research.

Works Cited:

  1. Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a History. Oxford University Press, 2009.
  2. Prokudin-Gorskii, Sergei. “Girl with Strawberries. Russian Empire.” WDL RSS, United Nations Office at Geneva Library, 1 Jan. 1970,
  3. “Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii.” S. M. Prokudin-Gorskii – Photographer to the Tsar,

6 thoughts on “Prokudin-Gorskii Visits Topornia”

  1. Gorskki, with support from Tsar Nicolas II and the Ministry of Transportation, captured Russian life from all aspects during his campaign. Gorskii captured numerous pictures that displayed a diverse nation: transportation (industrial lifestyle), ethnic diversity, architecture and the working class. Both of our pictures fall under the category of people are work, or the peasantry class of early 20th century Russia. On a national level, in 1905 (the year this photo was taken), Russia is dealing with multiple peasant uprisings in response to reforms that lessened, even more, the peasant voice.


  2. First off, this is a great photograph and I enjoyed your discussion of it in class! The contrast in the appearance of the girl and of the town behind her is questionable I think. It seems to me like she was handpicked because she looks nicer, presumably, than others in her community. I just wonder if the photographer was instructed to portray a happier/better life in the Russian Empire than it really was at that time. Art is usually left to the artist’s discretion but with such a strong backing from the Tsar I wonder if there were any strings attached.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You ask some really great questions! Prokudin-Gorskii’s photographs of people in their town or job are some of the most interesting for the questions they raise. I recommend checking out Kathryn’s post, “A shifting world captured in an industrial town”, and comparing the differences between the young girl in Toporina and the Kalgonov family in Zlatoust. Hopefully, through this class you can learn more about the context this girl is living in, and if it ever gets better for her. Good first post!


  4. This is a very cool photo. I think the style and colors of her dress are very beautiful. You raise many interesting questions about the economy and the well-being of her family. Perhaps her family is able to provide food for themselves but lack the equipment to repair surrounding buildings? Overall, this is a very interesting photo and post!


  5. What I like about this picture is that it looks like it could be taken from anywhere. Besides the clothes the young girl is wearing, there is really nothing else to distinguish it from anywhere else in the world. I bet you could find a place that looks identical to that in America today.


  6. Austin, I was very intrigued by this when you used the picture in class, I agree with you this picture gives a lot of perspective on what life was like for the peasantry in the early years of the 20th century in Russia. I would agree that this picture also raises a lot of questions. Like was there wide spread starvation among the peasantry, or were more people well fed like this girl appears to be? Did early one dress in so ornate and bright clothes or is this girl just posing for the camera with her best outfit.


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