Its hallmark and success lay in the ‘photochrom’ for which it acquired exclusive American rights. The photochrom process, first invented in Switzerland in 1889, used lithography to mass-produce colour proofs from black-and-white negatives. Almost two decades before colour photography, the American public was able to buy, view and share coloured photochrom pictures – particularly as postcards – on an unprecedented scale.
This hefty volume presents a beautifully designed collection from the DPC archive. Written commentaries help place the images in a wider context, while the book’s massive format shows the full detail of the photographs as well as the geographical reach of the DPC.
The original photochroms – ranging from postcards to large panoramas of landscapes and people undergoing unprecedented transformation – are certainly visually compelling; it is easy to forget that these images were not hand-coloured, their muted tones seem so painterly.
Yet the America marketed by the DPC – imperial, industrious and expansionist – was carefully constructed to appeal to the mass-consumer and tourist, as shown by the idyllic photochroms of American Indians and African-Americans. An instructive contrast and less manufactured view is apparent in the black-and-white photographs from glass-plate negatives also included in this impressive book.
AN AMERICAN ODYSSEY: Photos from the Detroit Photographic Company 1888-1924 by Marc Walter and Sabine Arqué, Taschen, £135