Color Mania: Photographing the World in Autochrome

Thames & Hudson. Jan. 2023. 240p. ISBN 9780500480762. $65. PHOTOGRAPHY
At the dawn of the 20th century, black-and-white photography was the norm, color the rare province of scientists and inventors. That would change forever with the commercial launch in 1907 of the first practical and accessible method for making color images. This captivating title draws from the superb collection of Autochrome images held by the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), London, and affords a rare opportunity to view these delicate images, which cannot be exhibited without damage, due to their light sensitivity. An introduction provides a short history of color photography, how the new process worked, commercial limitations, and issues with their exhibition and display. Separate chapters discuss how Autochromes excelled at capturing subjects where color is paramount: flowers, gardens, portraits, clothes, travel scenes. An excellent interview with V&A conservator Stephanie Jamieson explores the challenges of caring for and conserving Autochromes. Includes 352 images, their delicate tonal palette and softer focus quite different from contemporary color, nonetheless lending a feeling of immediacy to these 100-plus-year-old portraits and scenes.
VERDICT An enchanting view into a collection of images rarely seen, and a process crucial to creating our contemporary image world.
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