When the World Turned to Color

” — 20th exhibition of Šechtl & Voseček Museum of Photography.


Recently, there has been a surge of interest in the history of early color photography and it’s early practitioners. Many people are under the misimpression color photography did not begin until the 1940s and 1950s and the art of color photography did not get underway until the 1970s. However, the first practical color process, the Autochrome, originated at the beginning of the twentieth century and found a devoted following between both professional portraitists and serious amateur photographers. The Autochrome has been overlooked and the contributions of it’s finest practitioners almost forgotten to the history of photography. This is mainly due to the fragility of the glass plate materials and to the unstable nature of the dyes that make up the images, which do not allow them to be safely displayed in a normal gallery setting.

This public exhibition, the first in Czech Republic, will set the record straight by presenting 60 high-quality reproductions from the Mark Jacobs Collection, one of the world’s most important holdings of early color photography. Though many of the early techniques utilized to produce color photographs are represented in the Jacobs Collection, the collector’s abiding philosophy has never been to just collect the various techniques; many institutions have already devoted resources toward this goal. Rather, Jacobs has sought to discover and to re-discover those photographers whose artistic contributions compel us to reconsider the entire history of photography.

The history of color photography is one of the color photograph itself, not the history of a process. It encompasses such unfamiliar names as Frederick. O. Bemm, Fred Payne Clatworthy, Olive Edis, Leon Gimpel, Mante & Golschmidt, Helen Messinger Murdoch, Marcel Meys, J. D. Willis, Louis Steele, as well as the more familiar names of Arnold Genthe, Paul Burty Haviland, George Seeley, and Alfred Stieglitz. It is an account of early color photography that dispenses with the usual inadequate and narrow artistic, commercial, documentary, and scientific, classifications. Instead, it offers a fresh transnational approach that stresses the role of the print media by recognizing how it has shaped an overall color aesthetic.

In 2008, the Šechtl & Voseček Museum organized the “Legacy of Three-Color Photography,” the first symposium anywhere in the world dedicated to exploring the history of the first method of obtaining photographs in color. In conjunction with the workshop, which was held in Prague, Jan Hubička of the Šechtl & Voseček Museum flew to the US and used his expertise to digitalized over 350 Autochromes by the American photographer Fred Payne Clatworthy from the Jacobs collection which were subsequently exhibited in the museum in Tábor in November, 2008. That exhibition was sponsored by American Embassy. In 2011, Mr. Hubička returned to the USA to digitalize an additional group of 300 Autochromes with the aim a mounting a comprehensive exhibition on the history of color photography as seen through the Jacobs collection.

This exhibition is the result of cooperation between the Sechtl & Vosecek Museum, the Husserite Museum, the American Embassy. Mark Jacobs wishes to express his gratitude to the Šechtl & Voseček Musuem and Mr. Jan Hubička and the Hubička family without whose effort this exhibition could not be possible.