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HomeContentsOnline exhibitions > Autochromes: Invention

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Born in Besançon, in Eastern France, Auguste (1862-1954) and Louis Lumière (1864-1948) moved to Lyon in 1871, where their father Antoine Lumière had opened a photographic studio in the downtown area. They studied physics and chemistry at La Martinière, a famous technical school of Lyon.
Taking a keen interest in photography from the beginning, Louis developed at the age of 17 a dry-plate gelatin silver bromide emulsion. The family business initially hand produced dry plates, sold in the paternal studio of photography, but soon demand outpaced the manual capabilities.
The Lumière Company was thus incorporated in 1883 at Monplaisir, a suburb of Lyon, to manufacture and market these plates. It would become one of the largest European firms of photographic products. The two brothers were able consequently to conduct research in very diverse fields, co-signing number of publications and patents.
The role of Auguste Lumière in the development of the most outstanding inventions (Cinematograph, Autochrome plate) was marginal and he devoted thereafter most of its work to chemistry and medical research.
After the invention of the Cinematograph in 1895, Louis Lumière carried out his research on color photography with a trichromatic process, which will eventually lead to the Autochrome plate, patented at the end of 1903 and presented to the Academy of Sciences on May 30, 1904. Afterwards, Louis Lumière focused his energy on developing the industrial processes for the production of plates. A new plant was built in 1905 exclusively for this production and after several years the marketing of the product was launched in 1907.
It was a commercial success and the Autochrome plate remained without real competition for about thirty years. Thousands of photographs were taken all over the world with this process considered by Louis Lumière as his masterpiece.
When testing his first manually produced colors plates, Louis Lumière used his family circle as one of the first subjects for the Autochrome. After the launch of the plates, the Lumière would simply and naturally take many photographs of the family in colors, during privileged moments such as holidays and everyday life, and to shoot portraits. The few plates presented hereafter are a testimonial of this family practice in the first decade of the autochromy. The last two portraits presented are two Autochrome portraits of the brothers, taken just about the time when the Autochrome glass plate was replaced by the Autochrome on flexible support.
Jean-Marc Lamotte / Institut Lumière (the Lumiere Institute), Lyon – France 



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