Harvesting Tea by Prokudin-Gorskii

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii’s photo, “A Group of Workers Harvesting Tea,” is a clear example of Russia’s changing economic structure and strange contradictory nature. The photo, taken between 1907 and 1915, depicts workers picking tea in a field on the outskirts of the Russian empire. They are dressed in light, loose-fitting clothing and are tasked with harvesting tea from the field where they work. The caption of the photo indicates that this type of work could be grueling, and the photograph makes it obvious that picking tea is a thankless job; yet, it was necessary to the Russian empire that agrarian work be done. Even though in the past one hundred years, Russia had attempted to industrialize, neither the government attempting the industrialization nor the workers adapting to the change reaped much benefit from this new economic type.

The photo was taken early in the Twentieth century, on the eve of the Russian revolution. Despite planned changes and improvements to the Russian empire – like industrialization and freeing the serfs – the photograph seems like it could have been taken a hundred years prior. The workers in the tea fields are stuck in time, lost between the old agrarian Russian empire and the new, industrialized, modern Russian empire. With this obvious disconnect, it is unsurprising that the Russian people would rise up and overthrow their government in a few short years’ time. The unhappiness shown on the workers’ faces makes it clear that a change was necessary, and would happen with or without the government’s consent.

8 thoughts on “Harvesting Tea by Prokudin-Gorskii

  1. I believe you are 100% right that this picture could have been taken 100 years prior and looked the same. The agrarian society in Russia during the 19th and early 20th century was still the main source of economic growth making it vital for people to do this tough and thankless work. Thanks for sharing.


  2. This photograph always reminds me of how backbreaking tea harvesting was (and probably still is)! I’d be interested to learn more about these workers. Where was this taken? How did this place fit within the broader context of empire – both geographically and culturally?


  3. You can without a doubt see the discontent of these women in the picture. The picture says a lot about their story and I liked the way you said that change “would happen with or without the government’s consent.” That’s a very powerful statement and one that can be applied to a lot of different situations. This was a great post and I really enjoyed reading it!


  4. Heather, this post is really interesting in the way that it shows the major lack of willingness for the country to adapt and progress their technology in some aspects. The picture and the faces in the picture perfectly captures the unhappiness with the nation over their lack of sympathy towards such a difficult and physically grueling job.


  5. I liked this post a lot for 2 reasons: the history foresight of the picture and the analysis of their society from the photo. It show the life of the everyday Russian on the outskirts of the empire and their role in the empire. The rest of Europe is having extreme economic growth, while this tea plantation is unaware of the storm brewing in the west. I only wish I could know where they grow tea in Russia.


  6. The first time I looked at this picture there were so many people that I neglected to focus in on the faces of the workers, I’m glad that you pointed out the obvious disdain on their faces, and there are so many children harvesting the tea too, I wonder at what age they would start working.


  7. The first thought that comes to mind when viewing this picture is exhaustion. All the works had were baskets and their bare hands. The reference to the stillness in time when comparing pre-industrial to industrial Russia in the agrarian sectors was excellent. It really gives your class a perspective to consider, and how drastically different Russian development was to the rest of Europe.


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