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AutochromesWith the advent of the new Autochrome plate came a rush of photographers to capture the world in all its color. Arriving at a time when creating full color photographs was a complicated and exacting task the ease of the Autochrome process enabled talented amateurs as well as professionals to document their experiences at home as well as abroad. Earlier methods called for multiple exposure cameras and the use of two or three black and white negatives shot through different colored filters and printed or laminated together to provide the illusion of a true color image. In addition to the technical aspects of the three color processes came the hurdle of possessing the knowledge and the physical facility of an adequately equipped darkroom to complete the work. Once the Lumiere process was commercially available in the summer of 1907, the world of color photography became a more accessible and widely accepted practice. Initially the production and the cost of the plates was a limiting factor. There was short supply during the first few months of the plates release to the public; the demand was so great that the Lumiere factory had difficulty keeping up with adequate production.
By September of that first year the factory was able to maintain a steady inventory to meet the ever-growing popularity that the plate was enjoying. As supply and availability volleyed back and forth the effect could be seen in the increasingly high price of the plates outside of France.
This situation lead the English photographer J.C.Warburg to write an open letter to the British Journal of Photography decrying the disparately higher price that one paid in England for the Autochrome plate. But, by 1913 the Lumiere factory was able to produce nearly 6,000 plates a day.
Photographers of all skill levels addressed the standards of earlier photography and painting, landscapes, still lifeís, architecture and portraits were all explored with the new system of color photography. The images created reflect the fact that it was apparently the wealthier classes who had the opportunity to make use of the Autochrome plate. Vacations in the Alps, beautiful French interiors and scenes of family and friends in repose are typically seen in the works of the amateur photographer. Many of the images are idyllic and warm, representing views of a seemingly more simple time and privileged culture. And yet, the Autochrome lent itself to the less opulent scenes of life, most notably the images from WW1. Although there were many competing processes that were created around the same time as the Autochrome, it was the most popular and constantly in demand of the auto screen processes.
Itís closest rivals were the Agfa screen plate and the Paget plate, although they had a slight advantage in terms of film speed, allowing for slightly quicker exposure times, they lacked the overall visual appeal that the softer, longer tonal scale that the Autochrome had. In the early and mid 1930s the Finlay plate and the Dufay plate made returns to production after being off the market since the late teens.
The introduction of a film based material marked a change in technology that the Lumiere factory met with a new product called Filmcolor, later renamed Lumicolor. This was the same type of random dot matrix pattern applied to a flexible film stock that was available in rolls as well as sheets. The process was only on the market until the mid 1930s when the Kodak Company released itís Kodachrome process, which took, over the lion‘s share of the amateur market.
With the film based materials, faster exposure times and handheld cameraís the Lumiereís ground breaking Autochrome process met itís ultimate end as the color snapshot aesthetic found itís true beginning that has lasted long into the age of digital imaging.
© Hugh Tifft