The Autochrome: A Revolutionary but Brief Moment in Photography History

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The Autochrome was a groundbreaking photographic process that revolutionized the industry in the early 20th century. Developed by the Société Lumière in 1907, the Autochrome was the first industrial color photography process available to the public. American photographer Edward Steichen even described it as the “most beautiful process that photography has ever given us to translate nature.” This new process quickly gained popularity and created a craze for color photography.

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However, the Autochrome was not without its drawbacks. The plates were expensive, fragile, and difficult to expose. They also could not be easily reproduced, making it challenging to create multiple copies of the same image. Despite these limitations, the pleasure of capturing images in color was so great that many photographers embraced the Autochrome and developed their own unique styles.

The Autochrome’s popularity was relatively brief, lasting only about two decades. By the 1920s and 1930s, the process had fallen out of favor, as newer and more advanced technologies emerged. Nevertheless, the Autochrome remains an important milestone in photographic history, and the pictures created with this process are still admired for their beauty and unique aesthetic.

Today, the Autochromes are featured in exhibitions such as the one at Jeu de Paume, where the AN collection, curated since 2006 by Soizic Audouard and Élizabeth Nora, is displayed alongside a fascinating collection of Autochromes from the First World War kept at the Médiathèque du patrimoine et de la photographie. While the Autochrome may no longer be in use, its impact on photography and its role in shaping the art form will not be forgotten.


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