The Very First Color Photographs of the United States

by JamesNYCMay 15. 2014 14:27

Mulberry Street in New York, around 1900

You're looking at some of the very first color photographs of North America! A fascinating new photography book called An American Odyssey opens the archive of the Detroit Photographic Company to reveal America in brilliant color from the late 1880s to the early 1920s. Several thousand black-and-white negatives were reproduced in color by a photolithographic technique invented in Switzerland, called the Photochrom process.

Graphic designer, photographer, and collector Marc Walter owns one of the world’s largest collections of vintage travel pictures, or more specifically photochroms, and co-authored the book, An American Odyssey, with documentarian Sabine Arqué. The 612 page book takes us back in time, showing us rare and remarkable images of America's past including some of its most iconic landmarks.

As it states in the introduction of An American Odyssey, "Here, then, is the Grand Canyon in color more than ten years before the invention of Autochrome by the Lumière brothers. . . . The Grand Canyon had been discovered in the early 1850s and, by 1895, had already been photographed during the scientific expeditions organized by the American government in 1860–70: Timothy O’Sullivan, J.J. Fennemore, William Bell, William Henry Jackson, and John K. Hillers had already brought back monochrome pictures of the canyon. But the colors of the Grand Canyon—the reds, browns, ochers, and white of its strata burned by the sun were unknown to all but a select few. The colors of what Henry Miller termed 'the land of the Indian' . . . were for the first time revealed to the world by the photochroms of W. H. Jackson.

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 Anonymous, A Monday washing, New York, photochrom.

Mariposa Grove, "Three Graces," Yosemite National Park, California.

 

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