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Bringing Classic Russian Authors to Life through Olga Shirnina’s Colorized Images

Olivia Snaije By Olivia Snaije Published on August 4, 2017

The art of transforming black and white photographs to color images is a delicate one, but Russian artist and translator Olga Shirnina has a magic touch. Using Photoshop CS6, she colorizes historical images in the public domain, many of them from archives, bringing to life and generously sharing photographs of World War II heroes, including many women, members of Russia's imperial Romanov family, film stars, musicians, authors and dancers. She takes painstaking care to search for the right colors that were fashionable at the time, also consulting with experts when necessary. Several years ago she translated a book about colors, which she says may have helped too. While the photographs she works on are not all from Russia, the majority are; they bring the past closer to her, as she explained in a recent interview with the Daily Mail: “I'm interested in the history of Russia, it is full of dramatic, cataclysmic events which impacted on the history of both the country itself and the whole world.”

For Bookwitty’s purposes, we have selected some of Shirnina’s colorized photographs of Russian male authors (or their parents):

To begin with, they're not authors (even if Nabokov senior did write numerous books on politics and law), but they are the parents of a very famous one; Vladimir Nabokov, who was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1899, and wrote both in Russian and English, celebrated, of course, for his 1955 novel, Lolita.

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Vladimir Nabokov's parents

We move on to poet, novelist, and playwright, Ivan Turgenev, born in 1818, in Oryol, Russia, who wrote with great compassion about the injustices of serfdom, and is perhaps best-known for his 1862 novel, Fathers and Sons

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Ivan Turgenev

Founder of the Russian Communist Party, Leader of the Bolshevik Revolution, and first Soviet head of state, Vladimir Lenin was not an author in the traditional sense, but he did write books and, inevitably, innumerable books have been written about him. Born in 1870 in Simbirsk, Russia, his 1917 book, The State and the Revolution is considered to be a great contribution to political theory.

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Vladimir Lenin

Master of the short story and playwright, Anton Chekhov, was born in 1860 in Taganrog, Russia. His play, The Cherry Orchard, is one of his most famous, staged all over the world, in multiple interpretations, while his short stories can be found in many collections. 

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Anton Chekhov

Leonid Andreyev was born in 1871 in Oryol, Russia and was a novelist who also wrote plays and short stories. He was considered the father of Russian Expressionism; his later work was known for its pessimism and atmosphere of despair. His last book, Satan's Diary, was unfinished at the time of his death.

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Leonid Andreyev

The poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, one of the founders of the Russian Futurist movement, was born in 1893, in Baghdati, part of the Russian Empire (now Georgia). He was a leading poet of the 1917 Russian Revolution and the early Soviet period. The photograph of Mayakovsky below was taken by the artist Alexander Rodchenko.

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Vladimir Mayakovsky

Last, but most definitely not least, one of the world's greatest authors, Leo Tolstoy, in a photograph below. Born in 1828 in Yasnaya Polyana, near Tula, Russia, his two best-known works (and his two longest) are War and Peace, and Anna Karenina

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Leo Tolstoy

All photographs courtesy of Klimbim

Top image Anton Chekhov in Yalta in 1901 


Olivia is a Paris-based journalist and editor.


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