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Breathtakingly beautiful Autochromes of women from the early 1900s (NSFW)
10.20.2017
10:08 am
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The lowly potato gave the world sustenance, French fries, and would you believe color photography?

In 1903, two French inventors and photographers, Auguste and Louis Lumière, used the potato as the basis for their patented process in creating color photographs, or Autochromes as they were called. It was a simple but ingenious technique—crush potatoes into tiny particles; separate these minuscule starch particles into three; add red, violet and green dye; mix onto a glass plate; brush off the excess; flatten the dyed particles onto the plate between two rollers—thus creating microscopic color filters; fill in any gaps with soot; brush with light-sensitive silver bromide. Voila! You have a photographic plate ready to take color pictures.

The Lumières were also behind early advances in motion pictures but the brothers thought there was no future in movies and stuck to developing color photography. By 1907, the Lumières’ technique had proved so successful it infected the photographic world with “color fever.” Photographers across Europe and America (including talented amateurs like Gustave Eiffel better known for his Parisien tower) started producing a gallery’s worth of pictures—from portraits to nudes. To get an idea of scale, take for example just one repository the National Geographic Society which currently has “more than 15,000 glass plates in its archives, most of which are autochromes.”

What I love about Autochromes is the richness of color matched by a literal grittiness caused, in fact, by the potato starch. It gives the pictures a painterly quality, a depth, and resonance that digital photographs can rarely match. There were so many Autochromes taken after 1907 that sometimes the identity of the photographer is not known. Where possible in the following selection, I’ve tagged the person behind the camera.
 
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Gustav Gain.
 
More beautiful Autochromes, after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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10.20.2017
10:08 am
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Gorgeous color Autochromes of American women from over 100 years ago
07.18.2017
08:50 am
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‘Woman’s face’ (circa 1915).
 
A clairvoyant once told me I’d soon be working on a very big book. Her words sounded good. I considered their promise. I was a would-be middleweight tyro hoping to type out my magnum opus by twenty-one. A month or two later, there I was, just as she had said, working on a very big book in a university library but not the one I had imagined. This was a big book of last wills and testaments. My job was to work through this massive tome, transcribing the details by hand and then typing them up into a computer file.

The work was repetitive, dull, and mind-numbingly boring. The only respite was smoking weed with a workmate every lunchtime to loosen up the old synapses into some creative daydreams. There weren’t even the luxury of pictures to make the work just a wee bit more interesting. I’d spend the afternoons imagining faces of the people named in the book. Names like:

Ada Derwent, spinster, 79, born 1798, died intestate July 18th, 1876.
Robert MacFarlane, lamplighter, 46, born 1823, died intestate August 1st, 1869.

Who were these people? What did they look like? Where did they live? What were their lives like? That kinda thing. Nothing too original, or too taxing—just giving long-forgotten names substance. Up popped Cruickshank illustrations, scratchy-nibbed sketches that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Dickens’ novel or b&w photographs of grimy-faced Victorian laborers.

I worked my way through two or three of these thousand page books before quitting. I was none the wiser to what all these people looked like or discovering more about the lives they lived other than the written facts of birth, death and what they left behind.

If there had been pictures, my understanding may have been better. By which meander, I come to these beautiful color Autochromes of women from over a hundred years ago. We can see their faces, their clothes, their surroundings, and glean a sense of their lifestyle. Photographic portraits can tell us more about the subject than a listing of the facts as we tend to look at pictures in a far more positive way than we do at words. We look for connections that tell us about who we are, what we feel, and what we think.
 
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‘Dancer wearing Egyptian-look costume with wings reaching to the floor’ (ca. 1915).
 
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‘Woman posed as sphinx’ (ca. 1910).
 
More century-old color Autochromes, after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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07.18.2017
08:50 am
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At Home, At Work, At Play: Color Autochromes of life before the First World War
06.20.2016
12:16 pm
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The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

That well-known opening line from L. P. Hartley’s novel The Go-Between sits well with these Autochromes by artist and photographer Alfonse Van Besten (1865-1926) taken in the years leading up to the First World War. Looking at these beautiful idealized portraits of people working and playing in the tranquil Belgian countryside it is hard to imagine the bloody slaughter about to unfold on these “Flanders Fields.” They are like a glimpse of a man-made paradise before the Fall.

Van Besten was an early adopter of the Lumière brothers’ photographic process by which color was replicated through compressed pieces of dyed starch. His portraits are painterly—superbly composed and artfully created—with a sense of spectacle and drama. The majority of pictures show a wealthy middle and upper class at play—but as can be seen Van Besten was equally adept at capturing the working lives of the poor with a fine eye for detail and group composition.
 
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The artist and photographer Alfonse Van Besten painting in his garden circa 1910.
 
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‘Musing’—The photographer’s wife Josephine Arnz circa 1910.
 
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Men in civic and military clothes, ca. 1911.
 
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Children at play ca. 1912.
 
More Autochromes by Alfonse Van Besten, after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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06.20.2016
12:16 pm
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Early color Autochromes of New York City, 1900-1930
04.26.2016
12:38 pm
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The lowly potato changed color photography forever.

In 1903, two French inventors and photographers, Auguste and Louis Lumière, used the potato as the basis for their patented process in creating color photographs, or Autochromes as they were called. It was a simple but ingenious technique—crush potatoes into tiny particles; separate these minuscule starch particles into three; add red, violet and green dye; mix onto a glass plate; brush off the excess; flatten the dyed particles onto the plate between two rollers—thus creating microscopic color filters; fill in any gaps with carbon; brush with light sensitive silver bromide. Now you have a photographic plate ready to take color pictures.

By 1907, the Lumières’ technique had infected the photographic world with “color fever.” Many early color photographers claimed painting was dead. The future was the Autochrome. (Apparently someone forgot to tell Picasso.)

Unlike many of the European or Russian Autochromes from the turn of the twentieth century—which are usually filled with citizens at work or idly posing in narrow streets—these early Autochromes of New York are often empty of people as if the monumental nature of the city’s buildings made humans seem irrelevant, Lillputian, or simply unnecessary. When the city’s residents do appear they’re often blurred, frenetically charged, crammed into market scenes, or watching the camera from the seashore.
 
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Mulberry Street market, circa 1900s.
 
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Balcony overlooking Mulberry Street, ca. 1900s.
 
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Lower East Side, ca. 1900s.
 
More early color Autochromes of New York, after the jump….

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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04.26.2016
12:38 pm
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Gorgeous color photographs of Paris from over a century ago
12.14.2015
01:34 pm
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In 1909, millionaire banker and philanthropist Albert Kahn traveled to Japan on business. He was accompanied by his chauffeur and the photographer Alfred Dutertre, who he commissioned as his own personal Instagram to document his travels. Upon his return to his home in Paris, Kahn looked through the dozens of photos Duterte had snapped and decided he wanted to create “a photographic record of the entire Earth.” He therefore commissioned four photographers—Leon Gimpel, Stephane Passet, Georges Chevalier, and Auguste Leon—who were despatched, under the stewardship of project manager Jean Brunhes, to the four corners of the world with the simple directive to capture “a unique cinematic and photographic testimony of life of the people of the world.”

Using Autochrome Lumière—an early color photographic process that created color images with dyed potato starch on glass plates—and some early movie cameras, the photographers created an historical record of over 50 different countries between 1909 and 1929—taking 72,000 color photographs and shooting over 600,000 feet of film.

They documented in true colour the collapse of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires, the last traditional Celtic villages in Ireland, and the soldiers of the First World War. They took the earliest known colour photographs in countries as far apart as Vietnam and Brazil, Mongolia and Norway, Benin and the United States.

Kahn was an idealist. He believed documenting the world through photographs and movies he could create a cross-cultural understanding between nations and bring global peace. Neat idea. However, with the Wall Street Crash in 1929, Kahn was forced to abandon the project. He died in 1940 leaving behind one of the most important and extensive historical photographic archives.

In 1914, Paris was one of the cities documented by Kahn’s four photographers. They captured the “City of Lights” on the very brink of the irreversible changes wrought by the First World War.
 
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More incredible color photos of Paris from 1914, after the jump….
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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12.14.2015
01:34 pm
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Beautiful color photographs of England during the 1920s
10.28.2015
09:09 am
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The summers seemed brighter, the weather warmer, the days more leisurely. The First World War—”the war to end all wars”—was over and the 1920s began as a decade of great prosperity.

But by 1925 the years of plenty ceased. The gap between rich and poor widened, with unemployment rife and beggars—many old soldiers—a common sight on the cities’ streets.

In 1926, a General Strike almost brought down the government when unions showed solidarity with one million mine workers who had been locked out of the mines by owners who wanted them to work more hours for less pay—a drop of 13% of the miners’ wages.

Where farming had once thrived, one in four farms were sold during the 1920s to pay to financial obligations—over 600,000 farmers went bankrupt.

Families were of a smaller size compared to Victorian families—with children educated until the age of fourteen. There was more freedom for middle class and upper class women—women over 30 were given the vote in 1918, which was finally extended to all women over the age of 21 in 1928.

In 1928, photographer Clifton R. Adams was commissioned by the National Geographic to document life in England. Adams’ beautiful Autochromes—a process of producing color images by using potato starch—present images that are seemingly at odds with the historical reality of the time, capturing the last of an England that was on the cusp of an irreversible change during the about the 1930s Depression.
 
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England’s dreaming: More of Clifton R. Adams’ Autochromes, after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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10.28.2015
09:09 am
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