Capturing America in Colour

In the late nineteenth century the Detroit Publishing Company acquired the exclusive rights to use the Swiss photochrom method to convert black and white photographs into coloured prints. Most popular in the 1890’s, when colour photography was first developed but still commercially impractical, the photochrom process involved transferring black and white negatives on to lithographic printing plates to produce multiple copies. They subsequently became incredibly popular with the public, enabling the mass production of colour postcards, prints, and albums for sale to the American market.

The Detroit Publishing Company had access to more than 40,000 negatives. Its crew toured the US, producing additional images in a railroad car whose interior had been transformed into a photographic studio. They created more than seven million photochrom prints, selling popular images to the public and documenting the charm of American life and landscape in colour for the first time. Here are ten from the private collection of Marc Walter, made between 1888 and 1924. They exhibit the vast and varied landscape of North America in a surreal and unearthly manner, and record the lives of its people at the turn of the century. Looking closely at some of the prints you will notice areas of colour tint fading into grey, evidence of where the untinted original escaped being brought to life.

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Clear Creek Canyon, Georgetown loop, Colorado. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.

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Mulberry Street, New York. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.

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Mariposa Grove, ‘Three Graces’, Yosemite National Park, California. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.

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View from O’neill’s Point, Grand Canyon, Arizona. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.

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The Zuni people doing the Rain Dance, New Mexico. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.

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A Monday Washing, New York. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.

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Magnolia-on-the-Ashley, Charleston. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.

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Homestake Mine, South Dakota. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.

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Sunset from the Battery, New York. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.

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On the circular bridge of Mount Lowe railway, California. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.

 

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