Once upon a time in America: Rediscovering the first color photographs of the New World
From the Atlantic to the Pacific, the Rockies to the Tropic of Cancer, the North American landscape is as diverse as it is immense. Lakes as great as seas, forests towering to the sky, windswept plains, sweltering deserts, tumbling waterfalls, marshy swamps, rushing rivers, a legendary canyon… the list of the continent’s natural features inspires both wonder and awe.
This collection of photochroms (taking black and white negatives and filling them with colour by transferring them onto lithographic printing stones) and Phostint postcards (a way of tinting black and white and sepia images which was used by companies to print colour postcards of important events, such as scenes from the First World War) from the private collection of Marc Walter was produced by the Detroit Photographic Company between 1888 and 1924. It shows North America’s vast and varied landscape in its entire splendour, as well as its peoples, from Native Americans and African Americans to immigrants and the last cowboys or gold rushers. Legendary locales such as Far West saloons, New York’s and San Francisco’s Chinatowns, Coney Island, and Atlantic City complete the panorama of a century ago.
Using a photolithographic process that predated the autochrome by nearly 20 years, these images offered people their first glimpses of colour photographs. Imbued with a sense of discovery and adventure, they offer an extraordinary voyage through the America of our past.
About the author
Graphic designer, photographer, and collector Marc Walter specializes in vintage travel photographs, particularly photochroms, of which he has one of the world’s largest collections. He has widely published books with images from his collection as well as his own photographs.
Sabine Arqué is a documentarian, iconographer, and author. She has collaborated on numerous books on the subjects of travel, the history of tourism and photography.