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AN AMERICAN ODYSSEY: Photos from the Detroit Photographic Company 1888-1924 by Marc Walter and Sabine Arqué

  • Written by  James R Ryan
  • Published in Books
AN AMERICAN ODYSSEY: Photos from the Detroit Photographic Company 1888-1924 by Marc Walter and Sabine Arqué
01 Oct
2014
From 1888 to 1924, the Detroit Publishing Company was the most significant producer of photographs in North America. It sent staff across the continent to capture pictures to satisfy a growing audience hungry for images of their world

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

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