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Color photos of the 1900s Paris taken using autochrome technique

Color photos of the 1900s Paris taken using autochrome technique

Not too many people are aware that color photography was possible in 1907 thanks to a technique invented by the Lumière brothers back in 1903. There are many color photographs of Paris and despite their poor quality, they are amazing thanks to their ability to show us how the French capital looked like more than 100 years ago.

Autochrome photo of the Aubert Palace from 1925
Nighttime photo of the Aubert Palace taken in 1925 using autochrome

A camera is as good as the person holding it and this is valid when taking black-and-white photos, too. Photography in the 1910s is associated with monochromatic images of cities, people, animals, and places. Even though some are undetailed, many of them are considered great images thanks to their ability to capture the moment.

Exposition au Grand Palais captured in 1909 using autochrome technique
Exposition au Grand Palais autochrome image captured back in 1909

The Lumière brothers, Louis and Auguste, invented a technique called “autochrome” in 1903, which allowed photographers to take color pictures even in the early days of photography. The earliest autochrome-based photo was taken in Morocco back in 1907, while the technique became popular in France in the early 1910s.

Rue de l’Hôtel de Ville color photo taken using autochrome technology
Color image of the Rue de l’Hôtel de Ville from 1910

Paris through the lens of autochrome cameras

There are many color pictures taken using this technique, as it is the first technology that allowed photographers to take color photos. Autochrome was based on black and white composite emulsions along with red, green and blue filters made out of potato starch.

Seine flooding Paris in 1910 color photo taken with autochrome technique
Color photo of Seine flooding Paris taken in 1910

Although the quality of the photos is not among the highest ever seen, autochrome was a revolutionary technique in 1903 and color photography was something unimaginable for most people who lived on the planet at that time. There is a collection of 70,000 autochrome pictures at the Albert Kahn Museum and many of them were taken in Paris between 1914 to 1918.

Notre Dame cathedral in 1920 taken using autochrome procedure
Color photo of the Notre Dame cathedral taken in 1920

Historical subjects in the autochrome photo collection

Some photos were taken outside the 1914-1918 period, including a shot of the Notre Dame cathedral taken in 1920, the Grand Palais Exhibition photo from 1909, the 1910 Seine floods, and the Aubert Palace from 1925. Another impressive photo shows a bunch of solders staying at the entrance of the Métro station, while another depicts the Rue de l’Hôtel de Ville. The latter photo was taken back in 1910.

Color photo of soldiers standing at the Métro station entrance
Soldiers standing at the Métro station entrance in the early days of autochrome photography

The inventors of the technology could not have missed the opportunity to be photographed and there is an autochrome portrait of the Lumière brothers, too. Their technique was used until the mid-1930s, when the Kodachrome and Agfachrome procedures were invented.

Color image of the Lumière brothers from 1914
Lumière brothers color portrait from 1914 taken with autochrome camera
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Color photos of the 1900s Paris taken using autochrome technique