Monday, October 5, 2020

Great links: Stuart Humphryes' amazing BabelColour restorations

Before and after, as restored by BabelColour: Autochrome from the Albert Kahn collection taken in Porto-Novo, Dahomey (now Benin) in 1930. (Twitter, September 19, 2020) 

Years ago, I wrote a couple of posts about Russian photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii's color photos from the early 20th century (Post 1, Post 2). I love seeing color photography from 90, 100 or 110-plus years ago. One reason it's enchanting, of course, is because there's so very little of it. With his pioneering work supported by Tsar Nicholas II, Prokudin-Gorskii traveled across Russia, mostly by train, from 1909 to 1912 and again in 1915 to take his color photographs. His work can now be seen at the United States Library of Congress

But what of other color photography from that era? I know I'm incredibly late to discovering Stuart Humphryes (aka BabelColour), but better late than never! And if I can introduce a few others to his amazing restoration work, that's even better. 

In a nutshell, BabelColour painstakingly cleans, enhances and refurbishes early color photography. There is no Ted Turner-level colorizing that is taking place. These photos were taken in color and meant to be seen in color. They've just been neglected or suffered the ravages of time over many decades.

You can see BabelColour's work on Twitter and at his website. (And, honestly, if you skip the rest of this post and spend the next hour browsing his work, that's fine with me. That's kind of the point.)

While BabelColour's restored color images are astounding educational images on their own, he also works to give insights into his process and the history of early color photography. In August he wrote, "I tweet a lot about restoring autochromes & I'm conscious that not all of you will know what that means. Autochromes are early colour photos, made up of thousands of tiny coloured dots on sheets of glass. Holding the glass up to the light (or in a viewer) lets you see the image." And in April, he shared some restored images from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake aftermath and noted, "If you thought colour photography began with the patent of the autochrome in 1907, think again! These astounding colour photographs of San Francisco's earthquake in 1906 were taken by inventor Frederick Ives 114 years ago, but look like they could have been taken in the 1970s!" 

Here are some of my favorite BabelColour images...
"Today I have restored a lovely, century-old autochrome for you, taken on the French coast by Gustave Gain c1920. The richness and colour variation of the rocks is quite beautiful. It is original colour (not colourised)." (Twitter, August 22, 2020)
"Here is another old autochome I've restored for you, taken 111 years ago at the first Paris Air Show in September 1909. (It isn't colourised)." (Twitter, July 22, 2020)
"Here's a restoration from the opening months of the First World War in 1914. This autochrome was taken in France 106 years ago by Jean-Baptiste Tournassoud, showing Alpine infantry soldiers at their riverside bivouac." (Twitter, July 25, 2020)
"108 years ago, in the October light of 1912, this stunningly evocative portrait was taken in Nottinghamshire of a young girl named Audrey Green, which I have restored for you today. It was taken by budding amateur photographer Stephen Pegler & is original colour (not colourised)." (Twitter, September 12, 2020)

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