The Lumiere brothers developed the first practical technique for developing color photographs.
When you think of potato starch… as you probably do on a frequent basis… chances are you think of it as a thickening agent in cooking, or an adhesive, or perhaps a fuel used in some of the newer hybrid vehicles. A bit further down your list would be that it’s an agent used in the photographic technology of yesteryear. If potato-processing of photographs didn’t even make it onto your list, don’t feel bad; we only found about it by reading this brief and informative report by Becky Little, writing for National Geographic.
Adrian Coakley is the photographic research editor at National Geographic. “We’re all familiar with old black and white images, so much so that we often think of images from the early 1900s as being exclusively in black and white,” he explains. “With autochrome, you’re seeing those images in a way you wouldn’t imagine them. It’s like a look at history in color.”
“Autochrome” is a reference to a photo processing technique developed by two French siblings over a century ago. It was in 1907 that the brothers Auguste et Louis Lumiere (perhaps better known for their contributions to the development of motion pictures) developed the autochrome process for developing color photographs using… potato starch. The process was a slow one, and someone sitting for a portrait had to remain still for a while to avoid blurring. However, a nice side-effect of the almost unavoidable blurring found in many of these photographs is that they develop a painterly feel, unmatched by the later development of Kodachrome (mid-1930’s) and, eventually, digital. It’s a warm, natural look that is not without its appeal.
Color photography had been tried before les freres Lumiere came along with their potato-processing method, but the techniques used had been cumbersome and impractical. The “autochrome” method was less convoluted and afforded beautiful results. Here, why don’t you hunker down for a few and enjoy this photo gallery, featuring 12 gorgeous examples of the technique’s results.
In other potatography news, this photo of a potato sold for $1,000,000.00.