Can I Take Your Picture?

An autochrome photo of a group of children at National Zoo. PHOTO:  Jacob J. Gayer/National Geographic Creative/CorbisIt’s been a century since National Geographic published its first color cover using the autochrome technique. Gradually phased out post 1930 and replaced by Kodachrome and Agfacolor, the autochrome era is said to have given the art of painting a run for its money. With its lush colors and lyrical and evocative quality, the technique not only dislodged black and white photography’s monarchy but also brought together science and art. Credited to the Lumiere brothers, autochrome painted dreams in colors.

In probably what is one of the largest collection of autochrome photographs available, the National Geographic Society has around 12,000 autochromes. And those of America at the start of the 20th century are thoroughly mesmerizing. The series captures American life and scenery at leisure. From Indians to cowboys, men shoveling sulfur to a tribal woman selling baskets, shots of the New York city skyline, those of a distinct love for the outdoors – the grainy images show a country and its (true) colors.

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