UZBEKISTAN: Emirate of Bukhara in colour

The man in this picture is Sayyid Mir Muhammad Alim Khan, the last Emir of Bukhara, taken in the same year as his coronation … in 1911.

Yes, this picture is from 1911. And no, it hasn’t been digitally colourized after the fact, it’s a colour photograph taken in 1911. Russian chemist Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky developed a method that took three pictures at once with different coloured filters – red, blue, and green, and then could reconstitute the image by layering the the pictures. It was a tricky process with bulky equipment, and sadly never caught on, but Prokudin-Gorsky was given authority by the Tsar to travel around the Russian Empire between 1909-1915 and photograph people and places.

There are wonderful collections of his work on several sites, including on History Colored, Wikipedia, and the Library of Congress. He spent a lot of time photographing the Emirate of Bukhara, which then roughly covered most of modern day Uzbekistan. It was part of the larger Russian Empire, and in 1920, Bolshevik revolution deposed Emir Alim Khan, who fled into exile in Afghanistan. The Emirate became the Bukharan People’s Socialist Republic, and in 1924 the borders were redrawn into the Uzbek and Turkmen SSRs. (I really recommend Adeeb Khalid’s Central Asia if you’re interested in this history.)

These pictures astound me, both for the historical value and the scientific achievement, but also that the high quality and colour make them so real in a way that black and white pictures don’t. Here’s more from what is now Uzbekistan around the 1910s, all from this gallery on Wikipedia.

A civil servant on a winter’s day
The Bukharan Minister of the Interior
A jail in Bukhara
Jewish children studying in Samarkand
A nomadic Kyrgyz family on the Hungry Steppe
A dilapidated madrassa in Samarkand, with storks nesting in a tower.

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