Today I’m at the ‘Field of Mars’, another crucial place in the history of St Petersburg. In the heart of the gardens is a large memorial site for those killed in the February Revolution of 1917. Later, the space was enlarged to include communists and workers who had lost their lives in the Civil War. But it’s not Bolsheviks I’m looking for…
Instead, I’m in search of those wonderful lilacs captured by Gorskii a decade before the dramatic events of 1917. The botanical name is syringa vulgaris, but they’re known here as ‘Krasavitsa Moskovy’ (Beauty of Moscow).
This was the best lilac bush I could find. Had I been a few weeks later, the flowers would have been in full bloom. Compositionally, I’m pleased with how this one has turned out. It was windy, and you can see the movement of the leaves in the foreground.
JUNE 10, 2016
Today I continue testing my equipment to try and capture the magic of Gorskii’s late-imperial colouration. I’m standing outside the famous St Petersburg Stock Exchange Building (which, incidentally, is on the back of the 50 ruble note in my pocket). In front of me is the majestic Neva River, and this seems like a good moment to try and replicate the cyan skyline in Gorskii’s Nikol’skaia Church image, taken just 20 miles away in the Shlissel’burg province in 1909. This is also a good opportunity to capture the movement of water for the first time. The results aren’t great, but it’s a start. More experimentation with shutter speed needed…
JUNE 9, 2016
Today I continue in search of Gorksii’s St Petersburg. It is also my first day shooting. To test my methods, I set out to The Summer Garden, a place steeped in late-imperial Russian history: it was here, in 1866, that an assassination attempt was made on Tsar Alexander II. A quarter of a century earlier, Pushkin had chosen the garden for Evgenii Onegin’s childhood walks. Nearly two centuries on, the place feels like the ideal spot to test out my equipment. There is an abundance of light and the hedge rows provide a good degree of privacy. After a short while, I am asked to move on by a couple of guards – it seems using a tripod in the gardens is not permitted. I manage to get one image, however. Here it is (processed August 2016).
JUNE 8, 2016
Arrived in the Motherland today. My research begins in St Petersburg, where I will be retracing the sites of some of Gorskii’s Petrograd images. To acclimatise, I’ve ordered the classic pelmeni and mors. The magenta drink seemed appropriate.
Many of the techniques used by both Maxwell and Gorskii are no longer available to us. According to the archives at the Library of Congress, Washington D.C (where Gorskii’s work is held), there is no known replica or illustration of the camera that Gorskii used. It is thought that it was similar to a model designed around 1906 by Dr. Adolf Miethe. The images below are from the Library of Congress web resource: ‘The Prokudin-Gorskii Photographic Record Recreated: The Empire That Was Russia. See more here. With the generous assistance from Calvert 22 Gallery in London and the curator of Close and Far: Russian Photography Now, Kate Bush, I have been pointed to a source that states that Gorskii had visited Miethe and studied under him for six weeks in 1902. Bush notes that at that time, Miethe was the most advanced practitioner of 3-colour photography.