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.
Mulberry Street market, circa 1900s.
Balcony overlooking Mulberry Street, ca. 1900s.
Lower East Side, ca. 1900s.
Rooftop view of washing lines, ca. 1900s.
Another rooftop view winter ca. 1900s.
Silver Lake, NY, ca. 1900s.
Rye Beach, ca. 1900s.
New York street scene 1905.
Two men playing chess, 1907.
Schoolkids, spring 1910.
The Plaza Hotel, 1910.
Entertainment venue called the Foolish House, Ontario Beach Park 1910.
New York street scene 1911.
Couple on New York streets ca 1914.
Trinity Church 1915.
Street scene ca. 1920s.
Hudson River ca. 1920s.
Washington Square 1929.
Woolworth’s building 1930.
Previously on Dangerous Minds
Oh, Lal-la-la! Incredible color photographs of Paris from the early 1900s
Beautiful color photographs of life in pre-Revolutionary Russia
Color photographs of Russia from over a century ago
Via Vintage News, City Noise and Vintage Everyday.