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The Lumière Autochrome: History, Technology, and Preservation

  • Bertrand Lavédrine and Jean-Paul Gandolfo
    With the collaboration of Christine Capderou and Ronan Guinée

    Louis Lumière is perhaps best known in the U.S. for his crucial role in the invention of cinema, but his most important contribution to the history of photography was the autochrome. Engagingly written and marvelously illustrated with over 300 images, The Lumière Autochrome: History, Technology, and Preservation tells the fascinating story of the first industrially produced form of color photography.

    Initial chapters present the Lumière family enterprise, set out the challenges posed by early color photography, and recount the invention, rise, and eventual decline of the autochrome, which for the first four decades of the twentieth century was the most widely used form of commercial color photography. The book then treats the technology of the autochrome, including the technical challenges of plate fabrication, described in step-by-step detail, and a thorough account of autochrome manufacture. A long final chapter provides in-depth recommendations concerning the preservation of these vulnerable objects, including proper storage and display guidelines. There are also engaging portfolios throughout the book showcasing autochrome photographs from around the world as part of an initiative founded by the French banker Albert Kahn, as well as engrossing testimonials by children of men who worked in the Lumière factories in the early twentieth century. The appendix includes transcriptions and facsimile reproductions from the Lumière notebooks as well as original patent documents.

    Bertrand Lavédrine is director of the Centre de recherche sur la conservation des collections (CRCC) in Paris. He is the author of Photographs of the Past: Process and Preservation(Getty Publications, 2009) and A Guide to the Preventive Conservation of Photograph Collections(Getty Publications, 2003). Jean-Paul Gandolfo teaches at the École nationale supérieure Louis-Lumière near Paris.

    “[This book] resents an indispensible compendium of rare images from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, an era we tend to think of in black and white. . . . This volume provides an authoritative account of the development of the autochrome process, including every fascinating dead end.”
    —Wall Street Journal

    “A kind of Swiss Army knife of a book, covering not only the Lumière family’s pioneering photographic inventions, dating to the mid-1880s, but also the history of color photography and technical details of processes and preservation. . . . A brief but beautiful portfolio of images concludes each chapter of this book, which will be an essential resource for students and collectors of photography.”

    “Highly recommended.”

    “The Getty Conservation Institute has been releasing a series of amazing photo history books and this fabulous recent addition . . . is no exception. . . . This book belongs on the shelf of any serious photographer, curator, maker, or history buff. It’s a fabulously interesting read filled with quality information and wonderful photographs and images.”

    380 pages
    9 x 10 inches
    225 color and 75 b/w illustrations
    ISBN 978-1-60606-125-1

    Getty Publications
    Imprint: Getty Conservation Institute