22.9.23-25.2.24 THE INNER CIRCLE – colour photography from the past

To the left: Clarence Arthur Seyler (1866-1959) Mrs Seyler, Brynhild and Mildred, c. 1908, Autochrome, 10.7x 8.2 cm, V&A, RPS.993-2020 To the right: F. A. Paneth (1887-1958) Alt-Aussee , c. 1928, Autochrome, 12 x 9 cm, V&A, RPS.1408-2020

At first glance, the motifs seem modern. But in fact, the pictures were taken more than a century ago, when autochrome plates invented by the Lumière brothers made it more possible to photograph in color. Based on the Victoria and Albert Museum’s unique collection of autochromes, Landskrona Foto has created the current exhibition.

F. A. Paneth (1887-1958) – Mervyn O’Gorman (1871-1958) – Clarence Arthur Seyler (1866-1959) – John Cimon Warburg (1867-1931) – Helen Messinger Murdoch (1862-1956)- Olive Edis (1876-1955) – Henry Essenheigh Corke (1883-1919) – Harry Victor Leckie (1887-1974) – George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert (1866-1923) – Baron Adolph de Meyer (1868-1946) –Hugh C Knowles (1875-1940) – Kate Smith (1894-1947) – Norah E. Parish (date unknown) – S. Greenwood (died 1951) and unknown photographers.

Location: Landskrona Foto, Tyghuset. Private view: 21 of September 6pm. Register for the opening here.

There is a gap in the tree trunk, and in that gap stands a young woman, as if part of the tree. Playing with perspective, with the purple and brown shades of her dress becoming one with the bark. Stretching out behind her in the light fog is a green field. The image could be a modern fashion photograph or a contemporary nature study. But this work was, in fact taken more than a century ago, when the autochrome plates invented by the Lumière Brothers made it more possible to photograph in colour.

John Cimon Warburg (1867-1931) The Wood Nymph, c 1910, Autochrome, 16.4x 12 cm, V&A, RPS.1240-2020

The process was eagerly awaited by the photography enthusiasts of the time, who could see the world around them come to life, gaining depth and new dimensions. Autochrome plates required plenty of light, to create successful exposures and the red shade stood out particularly well in the pictures. For this reason, autochrome photographers sought colourful dresses, sumptuous roses and still lifes with shining apples. The vision presented is one of an eternal summer.

From its commercial release in 1907, until 1935, when autochrome plates were eliminated from the market by the more accessible Kodachrome film, the world underwent severe hardship, with the horrors of the First World War, the mass death caused by the Spanish flu, and the financial crisis and depression of the 1930s. But very little of this can be seen in the pictures preserved in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.  

During this time, it was mostly wealthy, privileged Western men who stood behind the camera: a protected social class with ample time for artistic interests and travels. While many professional photographers stuck to the black and white photography- more practical and commercially viable- autochrome plates were the great love of amateurs and family photographers.

The models they preferred were their children and wives, and their close relationships are reflected in the images, which are often warmly and lovingly composed. They photographed outside in the sun, using anything colourful they came across, draping their models in red fabrics, posed with bunches of flowers, and producing works referencing literature and the theatrical poses of portrait paintings. Many of the images were intended for private use and enjoyment. Owing to the process extreme light sensitivity, the autochrome could not be widely exhibited. It is not possible to hang the pictures on as wall, as they would be quickly ruined by daylight.  This is one reason why relatively few photographs from the heyday of the autochrome process have survived. Via a transfer from The Royal Photographic Society in 2017some 2,500 of them have been preserved in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Some of these rarities are now being made available to a new audience through digitization and reproductions.

Landskrona Foto has used the V&A’s collection as the basis for the current exhibition, where we come close to the photographers and their families. The early twentieth century is brought to life before our eyes, in soft pixels as if taken with a romantic Instagram filter. What appears to be digital noise is in fact blue, green and red potato starch granules-this is what creates the unique colour of the autochrome. What we see emerging is people and places that would otherwise have been irrevocably lost, now intensely alive again.

Boel Gerell

Baron Adolph de Meyer (1868-1946) Four trout, 1909, Autochrome, 10 x 12.6 cm, V&A, RPS.559-2020

To the left: Unknown photographer: Daffodils, c.1910, Autochrome, 8.2 x 8.2 cm, V&A, RPS.442-2020. To the right: John Cimon Warburg (1867-1931) Daydreams, 1909, Autochrome, 10.7 x 8.2 cm, V&A, RPS.1278-2020

Attributed to S. Greenwood ( död c 1951) Still- life study, c. 1920, Autochrome, 8.2 x 10.7 cm, V&A, RPS.1350-2020

F. A. Paneth (1887-1958) Seis: Else, Eva, and Heinz overlooking the view from the grounds of the St. Valentine Church, 30 September 1924, Autochrome, 12 x 9 cm, V&A, RPS.1495-2020

To the left: Mervyn O’Gorman (1871-1958), Christina, August 1913, Autochrome, 12 x 16.4 cm, V&A, RPS. 611-2020. To the right: Mervyn O’Gorman (1871-1958), Christina, August 1913, Autochrome, 12 x 16.4 cm, V&A, RPS. 616-2020

The exhibition is curated by Landskrona Foto in collaboration with Victoria and Albert Museum

© The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A, acquired with the generous assistance of the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Art Fund.