Thursday, October 27, 2011
The Old West as presented by The Detroit Photographic Co.
Posted by Jay at 5:11 PM
The previous post was a reminder of what an amazing and diverse culture the Horsemen of the Americas have. Through Luis Fabini's photographs, the whole world is reminded of the vanishing ways of the Old West. But is it just now that these traditional practices are in danger of being lost? Well, thanks to the early color prints of the Detroit Photographic Company, you can see for yourself just how different (or similar) the cowboys of a hundred years ago are to those of today.
These beautifully restored color images were made by the Detroit Photographic Company, later renamed the Detroit Publishing Company. The company produced prints and postcards of scenes from most of the US Mainland states using an early form of producing color prints called Photochrome.
These outstanding Photochrome prints come from a set called Views of landscape, architecture and people, and were made between 1898 and 1905. They show what life was like at the turn of the 20th century, mostly through scenes with landscape views of most of the major US cities and landmarks, but sometimes with images of the life of the early 20th century working man such as these.
A Photocrome (alternatively spelled Photocrom) is a colorized image made from black-and-white negatives. Unlike modern color film, a Photocrome was made by applying a negative to a lithographic stone treated with bitumen and benzene. The negative would then be exposed to daylight after which it would be treated with a solvent, leaving an image print on the stone, which becomes the "negative" for each color used.
The Photochrome process was popular from its inception in the 1880s up to the first decades of the 20th century. By then, the early true color photographic process known as Autochrome became more fashionable. In 1935, Kodachrome became available, signaling an end to other early color photographic methods.
The images from this set aren't as one-sided as other documentary ventures were, for example the photographs of the Native American people by Edward S. Curtis. Here, the Detroit Photographic Co. made a visual record of most of United States, producing over 25,000 negatives and transparencies, including over 300 color prints.
With a group of photographers under its employ including surveyor and photographer William Henry Jackson, the company was able to create an astounding portrait of old America. Thus, on one end you see rugged cowboys, miners and frontier men depicting the romantic image of the American Old West, on the other you see that modern recreational pastime of beach goers at Coney Island. You even have an early image of the Statue of Liberty in the initial stages of gaining its green patina over its copper skin.
These images goes to show that even back then, the old ways of the horsemen were already in danger of being lost from urbanization and modernization.
You can view the entire photographic archive of the Detroit Photographic Company (aka Detroit Publishing Company) over here. The rest of the Photochrome set, including the images from the Old West, can be viewed here. For old photographs of the Native American Nations, go here. For a modern look into the cowboy culture, check out this post.