A new entry for my ‘Must Buy’ list

I’m an enthusiastic amateur photographer, and used to be far more involved with the field than I am today. Back in the 1970’s I used an Olympus OM-1 system, and graduated to a Nikon SLR system in the 1980’s. Today, in the digital age, I use the Pentax digital SLR series.

We take all this equipment and technology for granted – but in the early days of photography, things were very different. Experimentation and adaptation were the order of the day. Take the beginning of color photography, for example.

It was not until 1907 that autochrome – the process through which colour photographs were first produced – was invented in Paris.

For the first time, vivid pictures of a world still largely unexplored were revealed to a mesmerised public.

And it was all thanks to the humble potato.

It was by using microscopic grains of potato starch that brothers Auguste and Louis Lumiere revolutionised photography.

They spread four million of them – dyed in shades of red, green and violet – over a glass plate, compressing them with a roller.

When the plate was exposed to light, the potato grains acted as filters and yielded a startling colour image.

French millionaire and philanthropist Albert Khan was among the first to see the possibilities of autochrome.

He poured his entire fortune into hiring a team of photographers, which he dispatched to more than 50 countries.

His aim was to make a record of all the people of the world.

Khan, one of the richest men in Europe, was forced to abandon his work in 1931, after losing everything in the Wall Street Crash.

However, his legacy of more than 72,000 autochromes . . . give an invaluable glimpse of the world at the beginning of the 20th century.

I’m fascinated to learn that BBC Books is bringing out a volume of his best photographs. This one goes straight on my “Must Buy” list! Art and history all in one go!

Peter

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