Autochrome: the first commercially successful colour photography process


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The Autochrome Lumière process, developed in 1904 by the brothers Lumière, was not the very first colour process in the history of photography, but it was the first to break into the market and dominate it for a longer period of time. The decisive advantage of Autochrome was a special glass plate which could capture all three primary colours. The first “stable” colour processes – which had all been developed in the 1890ties, like the “Kromskop”-process – were all, compared to Autocrome, more expensive, more complicated in their application or offered an inferior image quality. The success of the Autochrome glass plates, which lasted for almost a quarter of a century, is therefore easily explained: in an era when Kodak made taking photos more and more instantaneous and popular with easy-to-use cameras, relatively cheap dry plates and, by now, legendary slogans (“You press the button – we do the rest”), colour photography simply could not be too complicated and expensive either. It is not surprising that only colour films, first available in the mid 1930ties, managed to supersede Autochrome.

Since you are now surely asking yourselves what these Autochrome pictures look like, I have embedded some images taken by the English engineer Mervyn O’Gorman in 1913 down below. The girl shown is his daughter Christina.

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Image source: National Media Museum
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Image source: National Media Museum

Equally interesting is the following video about the Autochrome process and one of its earliest users, the Austrian-German photographer and photographic pioneer Heinrich Kühn:

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