The Very First Color Photographs of the United States

You’re looking at some of the very first color photographs of North America! A fascinating new photography book called An American Odyssey opens the archive of the Detroit Photographic Company to reveal America in brilliant color from the late 1880s to the early 1920s. Several thousand black-and-white negatives were reproduced in color by a photolithographic technique invented in Switzerland, called the Photochrom process.Graphic designer, photographer, and collector Marc Walter owns one of the world’s largest collections of vintage travel pictures, or more specifically photochroms, and co-authored the book, An American Odyssey, with documentarian Sabine Arqu. The 612 page book takes us back in time, showing us rare and remarkable images of America’s past including some of its most iconic landmarks.

As it states in the introduction of An American Odyssey, “Here, then, is the Grand Canyon in color more than ten years before the invention of Autochrome by the Lumie`re brothers. . . . The Grand Canyon had been discovered in the early 1850s and, by 1895, had already been photographed during the scientific expeditions organized by the American government in 1860–70: Timothy O’Sullivan, J.J. Fennemore, William Bell, William Henry Jackson, and John K. Hillers had already brought back monochrome pictures of the canyon. But the colors of the Grand Canyon–the reds, browns, ochers, and white of its strata burned by the sun were unknown to all but a select few. The colors of what Henry Miller termed ‘the land of the Indian’ . . . were for the first time revealed to the world by the photochroms of W. H. Jackson.”

Can you believe that the first photo above, of Mulberry Street in New York, was taken around 1900? How I’d love to own this book!


Sunset from the Battery, New York, photochrom.


Grand Canyon, view from O’Neill’s Point, Arizona, photochrom.


Memorial Arch, Hartford, Connecticut, photochrom.


Arch Rock, Mackinac Island, Michigan, photochrom.


Portland Head Light, Maine, photochrom.


Mount Lowe Railway, on the circular bridge, California, photochrom.


Apache Chief James A. Garfield, photochrom.


Cape Horn, Columbia River, photochrom.


Chinese pharmacy, Chinatown, San Francisco, photochrom.


Mariposa Grove, “Three Graces,” Yosemite National Park, California.


Anonymous, A Monday washing, New York, photochrom.


William Henry Jackson, Zuni Pueblo Indians, the Rain Dance, New Mexico, photochrom.


Tachen website
via [LIFE, The Atlantic Cities]





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