Thursday, September 02, 2010

Rarely Have Potatoes Been Used To More Beautiful Ends

With images, it is surprising how much we use colour as a quick yardstick to determine age. Originally, sepia photographs were sepia because they were old (the early chemicals used to produce the positive image gave the warm sepia brown tones we are familiar with), but once new techniques had been developed to create rich and lasting black tones, photographers would use special dyes to turn the blacks back into sepia in order to make the photographs appear old. In a similar way we tend to assume that colour photographs post-date monochrome images. Have a quick glance at the following two images :

Commercial Street, Brighouse. Circa 1970 : Alan Burnett
Mother and Child by Henry Essenhigh Corke. Circa 1910 (National Media Museum Collection)
The second image predates the first by some 60 years, although you would be more likely to think it was a modern photograph making use of antique clothing. The process used was known as "autochrome", and it made use of a glass plate covered in microscopic, red, green and blue grains of potato starch. It is a beautiful picture. Rarely have potatoes been used to more beautiful ends.

15 comments:

  1. Love the old cars in the top shot; very 1960s.

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  2. I DID think it was a modern photograph made to look vintage. That is amazing. Love your 1970 photo. Wonderful capture.

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  3. That Corke photograph is lovely! I love potatoes in any way, shape or form...and for good reason! LOL! I've never heard of this process, Alan...you're a wealth of knowledge! :)

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  4. How interesting, and even better than chips :-) Jo

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  5. I've always loved the colors of the autochrome plates; much softer and more muted than later color films. I've been playing with recreating the effect in Photoshop; mostly it's a matter of desaturating and adding a bit of warm or sepia filter.

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  6. Jo : Nothing is better than chips.
    Roy : Do post the results of your experimentations, I'd love to see them.

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  7. Amazing modern color in the autochrome. But I much prefer your marvelous Brighouse photo, Alan. Nice post.

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  8. It's such a beautiful art ! To read the details behind the art is even more beautiful ! Write more.

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  9. I much prefer the Brighouse photo too. The shop names take me back a few years!!

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  10. Lovely photos, both, and like California Girl, I thought the second had been "doctored" to look as though it came from a bygone era.

    I'm curious to know how you came by the potato trick?

    Happy weekend!

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  11. e : The potato starch technique is described in full on the National Media Museum website, as follows :
    http://www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/autochrome/index.asp

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  12. Hooray for potatoes - lovely photos and chips too!

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  13. I had no idea that potatoes were used, both photos are good but the second one is my favoutite, it's so beautiful.

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  14. Fascinating. I knew there were techniques for colorization early on, but I had no idea about the process. Also liked your 1970 photo very well.

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  15. Black and white is always so dramatic, even the most banal of scenes are lovely if the light's right. Love that old photo with the mother and child though, it does have a modern look to it.

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