Picture Book of the Week: Twilight of the Romanovs

A photographic essay across imperial Russia.

This image is taken from Twilight of the Romanovs: a Photographic Odyssey Across Imperial Russia by Philipp Blom and Veronica Buckley (Thames & Hudson, £34.95). Between 1900 and 1915, using a specially designed camera, Prokudin-Gorsky took hundreds of colour photographs throughout the Russian empire. Blom and Buckley track his peregrinations across Russia.

Prokudin-Gorsky’s pictures, they argue, show the “rich [and] fractured nature of Russian life. We see bourgeois grandeur of St Petersburg, the summer resorts of the Caucasus and the oil fields of Azerbaijan.” These photographs offer, write the authors, “a portrayal of “an empire unable to establish a stable identity for itself”.

[All images: Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky courtesy Thames & Hudson]


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"The Anatolian Fertility Goddess": a poem by Fiona Pitt-Kethley

Across the Golden Horn in Karakoy. . . 

Across the Golden Horn in Karakoy,
a maze of ancient, crooked, cobbled streets
contains the brothels of old Istanbul.
A vendor at the bottom of the hill
sells macho-hot green chilli sandwiches.
A cudgel-wielding policeman guards the gate.
One year, dressed as a man, I went inside
(women and drunks are not allowed in there).
I mingled with the mass of customers,
in shirt, grey trousers, heavy walking boots.
A thick tweed jacket flattened out my breasts.
A khaki forage cap concealed my hair.
The night was young, the queues at doors were short.
Far down the street a crowd of men stood round
and watched a woman dancing in a house.
Her sixty, sixty, sixty figure poured inside
a flesh-tone, skin-tight, Lycra leotard,
quivered like milk-jelly on a shaken plate.
I’ve seen her type before in small museums –
primeval blobs of roughly sculpted stone –
the earliest form of goddess known to man.

Fiona Pitt-Kethley is a British poet, novelist and journalist living in Spain. Her Selected Poems was published in 2008 by Salt.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad