In the 1915, when Sergeĭ Mikhaĭlovich Prokudin-Gorskiĭ took a photograph of himself and two railroad guards posing at a construction site, both the railroad and the war that had prompted the railroad had begun fairly recently. In 1916, Prokudin-Gorskiĭ was commissioned to photograph the new railroad project, in part due to Russia’s war efforts. The Ministry of Transportation funded his project with the support of Tsar Nicholas II, and Prokudin-Gorskiĭ did most of his work in a train car converted into a darkroom for him by the Tsar.
The intended purpose of the railroad was to connect the ice-free port of Murmansk with Petrozavodsk, which in turn offered a route to the capital. By building a railroad that connected the capital to a port that could be used all year round, the government hoped to reduce the cost of future projects, as the railroads already under construction had proved to be very expensive. Unfortunately for both Prokudin-Gorskiĭ’s portfolio and the Tsar’s government, the railroad project was highly unpopular with almost everyone and the railways themselves were unable to compete with the strain put upon them by the demands of the war. Shortly thereafter, food shortages and inflation led to massive protests in the capital and eventually, the overthrow of the Tsarist regime.
In his photographs, Prokudin-Gorskiĭ captures Russia being pushed towards financial disaster by irresponsible spending and misplaced priorities. The implementation of the Murmansk railroad project was far from the only problem that led to the 1917 Russian revolution, but it represents many of the complaints that the Russians had against their government.
“Group. (Myself with Two Other, Murman).” World Digital Library. September 26, 2016. https://www.wdl.org/en/item/5150/#q=Prokudin-Gorskii+Group&qla=en.
Heywood, Anthony. 2014. “Russia’s Railways in War and Revolution, 1914-25: What really happened?” Russia’s Great War and Revolution. May 22. http://russiasgreatwar.org/media/military/railways.shtml.
Murano, Dan. 2016. “What Russia looked like before 1917 … in color.” The Washington Post. April 19.
Prokudin-Gorskii, Sergei Mikhailovich. 1915. Group (Myself with Two Other, Murman). World Digital Library.
Stone, Norman. 2008. The Eastern Front 1914-1917. Penguin UK.