The dazzling beauty of New York autochromes

When you’re used to seeing 19th and early 20th century New York City in black and white photos, images of the pre-World War II city in stunning color are a revelation.

And few color photos are quite as much of a revelation as the dreamy, ethereal images known as autochromes.

What’s an autochrome? It’s an early form of color photography patented by French filmmakers August and Louis Lumiere in 1907.

“It involved glass plates, a backlight, soot and (oddly) potato starch—and it revolutionized photography,” stated NPR.com, in an article covering National Geographic’s vast archive of autochromes, which include the images here.

“For about 30 years, it was the most widely used process for capturing color.”

“The pointillistic quality of these photographs—small dots of orange, green and purple—gives them a misty, nostalgic tone,” stated NPR.com.

These five autochromes here give us New York in 1929 and 1930: the Hudson River waterfront, two images of Washington Square Park, a view of the Woolworth Building and the demolished Post Office at City Hall, and the street poetry of two men rifling through the wares of a downtown junk shop.

Historically, they’re fascinating—they reveal the spectrum of colors of buildings, signs, vehicles, and clothes of an earlier city, rather than the contrasts of darkness and light most older photographs offer.

Artistically, autochromes don’t just capture color; they create something magical.

[Autochromes: Clifton R. Adams and Edwin L. Wisherd/National Geographic Creative/Corbis]

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8 Responses to “The dazzling beauty of New York autochromes”

  1. carminebassano Says:

    . . . wonderful pis and accompanying information. Thank You for posting.

  2. Gotham, 20th Century Autochromes – This isn't happiness Says:

    […] Gotham, 20th Century Autochromes […]

  3. Sally F Says:

    Magical indeed! Love this post!

  4. Mike A Says:

    Amazing pictures. I like the much
    More that the colorized ones. They retain an old quality

  5. petey Says:

    great snaps! b&w pictures can be beautiful, but have a look about them, as if from a prehistorical era. color pictures really bring this this world to life, showing the continuity between then and now.

  6. M.K.E. Says:

    i want to walk right into these beautiful scenes. Thank you!

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