The Romanovs, Russia’s last royal family, were photography pioneers. They owned and made regular use of the first Kodak portables, capturing almost every meaningful event of their lives.
The former Tsar, Nicholas Romanov, his wife and their five children were brutally executed by Bolsheviks on July 17th 1918. To pay tribute to the family, we worked on a large set of visual data for a transmedia storytelling experience that pieces out the big picture of a "lost Russia".
#Romanovs100 is a comprehensive cross-platform social media project unveiling 4,000 photographs from a unique collection preserved by the Russian State Archive. This vast family chronicle is a detailed first-hand witness account of the early 20th century - for decades this part of Russian history was eradicated from school-books and kept in the dark during the Soviet rule. Today, we bring it back to the spotlight.
Accounts on four social networks review the last decades of the Russian Empire, seen through the lenses of the Romanovs’ cameras. Each account showcases its own narrative, format and content.
Every published photograph was thoroughly researched to create platform-specific storytelling. To create each post, the team turned to large trove of historical data including dozens of different sources ranging from personal diaries and letters by Nicholas II himself, to memoirs by his contemporaries and extensive works by Russian and foreign historians.
#Romanovs100 is a research into history through the visual language of photography combined with the digital reality of social media.
Together with the State Archive specialists, we gathered a comprehensive collection of family images covering two decades, culminating in 1917. The team spent months gathering a data trove of digital images and then tagging every photo. As a result, a tag-cloud of some 200 markers was created to navigate the content archive via a digital asset management platform. Story planning started at the early stages of data curation - every image needed a story behind it. Collaborating with the State Archive experts and historians such as Helen Rappaport, one of the best-known writers on the Romanovs, we managed to pinpoint dates and names to most of the images. To create narratives for social media posts, we extensively used dozens of different sources.
Several thousand photos added up to create a dynamic narrative, which was then shared on social media accounts image by image.
Key elements of the project:
• Facebook: high-quality photos and panoramas from the Romanovs' collection mixed with lyrical stories about the lives of Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra and their five children: Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and Alexei.
• YouTube: short documentary-style videos based on the Romanovs' photo collection, featuring historic aspects of the era in which the last Tsar’s family lived as well as some lesser-known stories behind rarely seen photos.
• Twitter: "real-time" blogs by historical characters: Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra Feodorovna and their family doctor, Eugene Botkin. Helen Rappaport, a renowned British writer and historian with deep knowledge of the Romanov family, lent her voice to the account of the four royal daughters collectively referred to as OTMA.
• Instagram: most artistic and visually enticing photos from the Romanov family’s albums distributed using non-linear storytelling. One of the accounts is a POV feed ‘by’ spaniel Joy, Tsarevich Alexei’s favorite pet.
• World's first-ever digital colorization contest judged by renowned artist Marina Amaral. With the #Romanovs100 digital colorization contest we tried to make inspecting and recoloring the historic photos an immersive process through which people experience history through a faithful retreatment of old photos. We offered our audience the chance to color rare images from the Romanovs collection. Every participant could choose & download any 3 photos from a batch that Brazilian colorization artist Marina Amaral selected for the contest. Contest submissions were posted on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook under the hashtag #Romanovs100. We received dozens of entries from - Indonesia, United States, Bolivia, Canada, UK, Switzerland, Russia, Philippines, Trinidad, Netherlands and many other countries. Artworks were created by professionals as well as some trying digital colorization for the first time. Contestants of all ages took part - the youngest being 11 and 13 years old, while the oldest was a 70 year-old University professor in Chile.
• An original soundtrack composed by Russian singer Peter Nalitch & recorded with orchestra. The task was to transform the visual aesthetic of the Romanovs’ family albums into sound — for several months the team worked closely with the musician to transmit the essence of photographs into music. The challenge was to create a wide-ranging audio narrative that would capture the atmosphere of early XX century life and portray the Romanovs as a kind and loving family. In the end, a full original score of a series of musical themes was recorded.
• Music video combining old photos & VR Animation. Despite the gruesomeness of the Romanovs murder, we aimed to finish the project with a note of hope and love. So we sought to imagine how young Tsarevich’s dream might look like if we turned some of his child photos into VR animation? We picked 10 images from the Romanovs photo collection, collaborated with famous Russian singer Peter Nalitch to compose a tender tune (as if Romanovs are singing a lullaby to their children) and built a surreal world around photos and lyrics in VR animation. The created artwork is unique as it combines century-old photos with VR animation in Quill with cinema and After Effects. Drawn and animated in Virtual Reality, the clip was turned into a unique 360 experience. ‘Lullaby’ is an adventure into the dream world of young Tsarevich Alexei — a mixture of child fantasy, drawings and photo-memories. It’s an amazing children's world where reality is augmented with imagination.
• Photo teasers using a 160-year-old ambrotype technique. The Emperor, The Empress, The Sisters, The Tsarevich — were all created with the family’s personal belongings in mind.
• Video teasers reconstructing several of the Romanovs' images, in-motion - filmed on 8mm & 16mm cameras with large-scale production and authentic props. Each #Romanovs100 trailer was filmed using early 20th century techniques and features the very photo from the Romanov archive that inspired the storytelling. In using this technique the #Romanovs100 team sought to reconstruct the atmosphere of fin-de-siecle and early 20th century Russia and to share the intimacy of Romanov family life with our audience.
The #Romanovs100 project was acclaimed by educators and researchers in higher-education. Our team made several presentations at 2nd and 3rd level institutions and will present the project to educators and innovators at SXSW EDU (Austin, Texas), ASU GSV X (San Diego, California) and PromaxBDA Europe (Amsterdam) in 2019.
#Romanovs100 had an impressive impact across social media. The project generated over 25 million impressions & gathered around 55,000 fans & followers combined. Social media posts generated over 1 million engagements (likes, shares, comments, retweets).
Our short documentary videos on Facebook and YouTube gained 1+ million video views with over half-a-million minutes of watchtime.
#Romanovs100 became the key hashtag during the centenary of the Romanovs' death on Twitter worldwide. During 16-17th July #Romanovs100 hashtag usage grew more than 2,000% with the project's unique tag featured in tweets by museums, history magazines, publishers, historians, students and educators. The project received wide global media coverage, featuring in The History Extra magazine, BBC News Hour, Tatler, Sky News, Daily Mail, The Sunday Telegraph, Quartz, Culture Trip and more.
Clios - Silver
The Drum Award
RT Creative Lab has been a Contributor since 25th November 2015.