Magic Lantern India

Bombay, General View, 1895
Bombay, General View, 1895 (Detroit Publishing Co., 1899)
Intro III.

here were many ways of colorizing images - besides lantern slides - before real color photography appeared by 1930. Among them, the Photochrom process stands out for its high quality. In 1900, The Detroit Publishing Co. called it ". . . the only successful means yet known of producing directly a photograph in the color of nature." William Henry Jackson was one of its pioneers in the US.

The Detroit Publishing Company was the only American firm to ever license the Photochrom process. Jackson became a partner in the firm in 1898. He worked with a Swiss scientist who brought the secret of this part photographic, part lithographic printing technology from Zurich to Detroit. It had been developed in 1890 by the Swiss publishing house Art Institute Orell Fussli, named after the inventor of the process. A Detroit brochure continued: "The Results combine the truthfulness of a photograph with the color and richness of an oil painting or the delicate tinting of the most exquisite watercolor."
Temple of Buddha's Tooth, Kandy, 1895
Temple of Buddha's Tooth

Kandy [Sri Lanka]


(Detroit Publishing Co., 1899)
Jim Hughes, the author of The Birth of a Century: Early Color Photographs of America,, describes a Photochrom as "a continuous-tone color rendition of a black-and-white photograph that uses multiple impressions from lithographic stones (p.8)." Highly specialized and expensive materials from all over the world like graphite from Bavaria and asphalt coating from Syria were used to make a series of stones for each color, up to fourteen for a single print. Numerous chemical baths followed. How exactly the colors were placed upon the prints remains unknown. They could have been individually laid down on black-and-white photographs, or the photographs could have been printed with the colors.

The Detroit Publishing Company published many Photochroms of India, ranging in size from 4.75 inches by 6.5 inches up to 24 inches by 16 inch panoramas. The India Photochroms are among the largest ever made. Most seem to have come from the Jackson's negatives, thousands of which he brought over to Detroit Publishing when he joined in 1898. They includes landscape panormas like the one above, many more shots of Bombay and Calcutta and the whole island of Ceylon, as well as Agra, Benares, Delhi, Amritsar, Lucknow, Cawnpore, Gwalior, Jaipur, Darjeeling and a dozen more cities and towns. There are also a number of "Types and Costume Studies," like "Group of Jogees, Calcutta," "Group of Singhalese Nobility, Ceylon," and "Dancing Temple Maids, South India." The two shown on this page are the only ones yet found in America.



© Harappa 1999