This is one of the many photos taken by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii for Tsar Nicholas the II. This one, in particular, was taken in the Ural Mountains, near the settlement of Kamensk-Uralskii, in 1909. This time, 1909, was at the beginning of the bulk of Prokudin-Gorskii’s photography for the Tsar, which had commissioned him to travel and photograph the country at the time.
This picture is titled as “Fisherman on the Iset’ River”. It depicts an older man fishing into the Iset’ River which runs nearby the settlement of Kamensk-Uralskii. The rivers name Iset’, meaning “much fish” in local Vogul language, derives from lake Iset’ which is the rivers origin. Lake Iset’ is located Northwest of Ekaterinburg and the river flows 600 km from there until it joins the Tobol River which flows across the border into Kazakstan.
The fisherman has two lines in the water and is wearing a worn in hat, no shoes, and has a large white beard. Prokudin-Gorskii himself was an avid sportsman so besides the tranquility and serenity that this image possess, that likely played into the choice Prokudin-Gorskii made to photograph this scene. In the background and across the river a birch tree can be seen. Fighting its way out of the eroded sedimentary rocks carved and shaped by the river’s path many years ago. One could point to the struggle of this tree, growing out of the harsh conditions which exist around it but seemingly thriving, as a reflection of the Russian people and the Russian empire themselves. Struggle to grow and survive in the harsh conditions that surround them. Physically with the climate but also economically and politically under the rule of the autocracy. Yet they are still managing to continue forward and live. Growing out of the past and into the future as Russia continued its transition into fighting for the status of a power in Europe, and to be no longer seen as “inferior” by the West.
This image is just but one of the many taken by Prokudin-Gorskii, and but only one of many taken in the Ural mountains region where he made several trips over the years of 1909 to 1912. Each photograph tells a different and unique story about Russian life and gives a snapshot of what it was like to live in that period of time.