People who lived before World War I were grainy variations of black, white, and gray. We know this to be true because of the photographic record. But those remote monochrome images also serve an important purpose. They separate us from those oddballs who did so many stupid things.
Then, out of the blue, comes something like this: color photography from czarist Russia. Look at this astonishing exhibit from the Library of Congress. The Empire That Was Russia: The Prokudin-Gorskii Photographic Record Recreated.
It’s both beautiful and heartbreaking, because the people look so real. What do we know that they don’t know? What do they know that we don’t know? Pictures like this force you to admit that maybe they weren’t comical stop-motion fops with waxed mustaches. Look at these peasant girls from 1909.
1909! Ye gods! I think that middle one was in my third grade class.