Autochromes: The Art of Early Color Photography

The birth of color photography with the aid of potatoes

Autochromes from the 'Early Visual Media' collection

One of the most delicate, in all aspects of the word, photographical techniques is the Autochrome. These early 20th. Century color photographs, invented by the Lumière brothers, (Auguste and Louis) show images with a 'pointillistic' effect.

The Lumière's contribution to color photography is perhaps of more importance in comparison to their contribution in film history, since in the period (1895) they "invented" cinema, projected moving images where since long in existence!

Autochromes were not the first photographs in color since the search for color started at the dawn of photography and is seen in most early techniques true coloring by hand. E.g. Daguerreotypes, Ambrotypes, Chrystoleums, ...etc.

However, the autochrome was the first practical technique that produced color without the artificial aid of an artist.

Mouve mouse over image to see detail of woman

Girl with her doll

Due to the use of transparent
dyed potato starch (7000 grains / mm2) spread onto the glassplates, autochromes are dark but translucent images. They could be projected but are best viewed via back-lighting in a viewing device known as Diascope.

Since autochromes are extremely fragile, many of them were destroyed.
A personal selection of stereo-autochromes, made by mostly amateurs, is seen on the current page.

Most images on this pages are in the small European (4.21" x 1.77") standard size for glass stereo plates. (107mm. x 405mm.) Obviously, many other (stereo & non-stereo) formats do exist.

The majority of autochromes found are made by mostly amateurs. This is almost certainly the case for most (if not all) of the images on this page.

The first fragile autochromes were glass-plates. However, from 1932, glass-plates where often replaced by Autochrome film. The appearance of Kodacolor in 1936 started the down of the Autochrome process.

Both types of autochromes, glass or film, were mostly sandwiched between glasses to protect the extremely fragile emulsion layer.

Both children portraits (half of stereo images) are examples of autochromes on flexible film sheet, protected in the above described method.

Children with their toys were an obvious subject for proud parents experimenting with the latest "colour pencil of nature".

Since the reproduction of natural colours was a novelty at the beginning of the
20th. Century, the choise for colourful subjects was more than obvious.
Images depicting landscapes, still lives, family life and gardens, both public or privat, with a profusion of flowers were often captured.

See more Autochromes at Jean-Baptiste Tournassoud.

Three Belgian Autochromists in the collection of Florent Van Hoof.
Girl with her sunshade
Women behind flowers


The Stunning Autochrome collection of Florent Van Hoof
Alfonse Van Besten - Paul Sano - Charles Corbet

Photography aimed from his very beginning, round 1839, the ambition to reproduce true colour as can be seen in hand-coloured daguerreotypes and albumin prints. Since the Lumiére brothers made the autochrome process commercially available in June 1907, photographers began worldwide experimenting with the new process.

Collector Florent Van Hoof carefully preserves hundreds of wonderful high quality autochromes by three Belgian Autochromists, Alfonse Van Besten (1865 - 1926) - Paul Sano (1874 - 1960) - Charles Corbet (1868 - 1936). Click on the stereo 'Skulls' autochrome to visit the highlights on Van Hoof's new website, 'Three Belgian Autochromists'. Some of these important images are reproduced, with kind permission of the copyright holder, on this page. For more biographical information on Van Besten, Sano and Corbet goto to the latter orginal source.
Paul Sano 'Skulls' - c. 1912, stereo autochrome 9 x 12

© Collection Florent Van Hoof


Alfonse Van Besten, 'Two girls picking Cornflowers'
c. 1912, autochrome 9 x 9

© Collection Florent Van Hoof
Similar autochrome in collection Fotomuseum-Antwerpen
Paul Sano, 'Girl and Parrot' c. 1920, autochrome 12 x 9

© Collection Florent Van Hoof


Charles Corbet, 'Young lady with a fan' - c. 1910, autochrome 9 x 12

© Collection Florent Van Hoof


Alfonse Van Besten, 'Stagecoaches at Korenlei, Gent' c. 1912, autochrome 9 x 12

© Collection Florent Van Hoof


Alfonse Van Besten, 'Washing and Bleaching' c. 1912, autochrome 9 x 12

© Collection Florent Van Hoof
Alfonse Van Besten, 'Children at play' c. 1912, autochrome 9 x 12

© Collection Florent Van Hoof
Charles Corbet, 'Marketday at Middelburg' (NL) - c. 1910, autochrome 9 x 12

© Collection Florent Van Hoof


Alfonse Van Besten, 'Modesty' c. 1912, autochrome 12 x 9

© Collection Florent Van Hoof
Similar autochrome in collection Fotomuseum-Antwerpen
Paul Sano, 'Double portrait of Mrs. Corbet' c. 1912, autochrome 8,5 x 10

© Collection Florent Van Hoof

More Autochromes from the 'Early Visual Media' collection

On the left we see a hand held Diascope, shown here with the kind permission of Bernard Plazonnet.

The diascope is a viewing device for admiring autochromes in optimum conditions. The illustrated viewer is designed for single plate autochromes.

"There is a mirror in the back of the foldable "bellows" you can see beyond the front frame. The "shower" has to tilt the device so that light strikes the mirror and is reflected through the Autochrome" Bernard Plazonnet.

Apparatus for viewing stereo autochromes looks very similar too some stereo viewers.
In both cases, single or stereo, the light is directed via a mirror to illuminate the back of the autochrome glassplate.
Stereo autochromes are, obviously, often viewed with a Brewster type hand held viewer.

Some table model viewers have special accessories to enable them in viewing a set of autochromes stored in bakelite trays.
(The Stereodrome Gaumont & The Jules Richard Taxiphote.)

© Bernard Plazonnet collection    

See 'A Century of Colour Photography' by Pamela Roberts.
Published on the occasion of the Centeneray of true Colour Photography, The Autochome.


Women and flowers


Women and flowers and her dog




Women on terrace with Hydrangeas

  Women on terrace with flowers





  Flowers in pot



  Portrait of a woman with bonnet

  Portrait of a man with hat



  Portrait of a dog


Visit also albumin stereo nudes

Visit other stereo views


Visit Stereoscope viewers

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he online Media Archaeology Museum version (21) Jan to Dec 2015 - All rights are protected by SOFAM.be