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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Splash of Photo History Comes to Light

This century-old Edward Steichen autochrome, probably of Charlotte Spaulding,
has been discovered after decades in storage.

By Randy Kennedy, The New York Times

At first glance the two pictures seem to be gorgeous anachronisms, full-color blasts from the black-and-white world of 1908, the year Ford introduced the Model T and Theodore Roosevelt was nearing the end of his second term.

But they are genuine products of their time, rare ones, among the few surviving masterpieces from the earliest days of color photography, made using a process developed by the Lumière brothers in France and imported to the United States by the photographer Edward Steichen a century ago this year. They were taken by Steichen, probably in Buffalo, and are thought to be portraits of Charlotte Spaulding, a friend and student who became his luminous subject for the portraits, which resemble pointillist miniatures on glass.

Almost as intriguing as the pictures themselves, however, is the story of how they recently made their way from a house in Buffalo, where they apparently sat unseen for decades, to the collection of the George Eastman House in Rochester, one of the world’s leading photography museums, where they will be exhibited for the first time this fall....



NOTE: There is also a good article about this at the Independent, called "Timeless exposure: 100-year-old colour photos discovered in attic." (I've misplaced the name of the reader who brought this one to my attention, but thanks to him. —MJ)
Illustrations: George Eastman House Collection

Featured Comment by Ken Tanaka: "They look wonderful and appear to be in terrific condition. I am glad that they're not (yet) in a private collection.

"So, a point of perspective. If Henry Wilhelm is accurate, our Epson Ultrachrome K3 prints will look just-printed fresh when they're the same age as these photographs."


Blogger igb said...

Absolutely unf**ng believable!! I had to call paramedics to put my jaw back in place.

In my ignorance I thought that colour photography started out in the 40's or something like that, but Art nouveau photography?? So many things to learn. A pity I'll only live to be 130 or so.

4:25 PM  
Blogger david vatovec said...

One of my Favorites, and the pictures are in excellent conditions!

9:44 AM  
Blogger Leo said...

Actually a type of color photography was being done around 1860's--Using blue and ultraviolet light sensitive film. Shooting three glass plates with C. M. Y. filters you got a colored image after dying the plates with the same dyes-Not sure of the details--Recreated the experiment for a Scientific American cover back in 1962--We did the photo at Kodak, they screw up the processing of the film and the cover never ran.
Steichen's image is beautiful--not sure they had red sensitive film then either. Leo

3:23 PM  

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