Jul 23 2008 7:31pm

An open window to the past

A few days ago, I discovered via friends’ links that the George Eastman House had uploaded a large number of very old photographs to Flickr. Since then, I’ve been browsing through them, looking up the people who are named, and puzzling over the anonymous, sometimes moving, sometimes creepy, images. There are stories here. And some surprising old friends: There’s an actual photograph of Princess Marie of Romania!

This is a photograph of Louis Jean Lumière. Lumière was a cinema pioneer – he invented one of the earliest motion picture cameras, and produced and directed the very first movies ever shown to the public. But he also invented the still photography process known as Autochrome, an emulsion technique that produced color photography. The George Eastman House photos include 68 early autochromes, and they fascinate me even more than the 19th century black and whites.

There’s something about this one….called only “Woman in a Floral Silk Robe”. It was made in 1915, by a photographer named Charles Spaeth. Beyond that, we know nothing of who this young woman was, where she lived, what she was thinking to create this sly, mischievous pose. Most of the other photos in the set are formal sittings, or still lives. This is an intimate portrait.

Take a look at the collection. It’s a remarkable resource, made available on the internet without restrictions, for our enjoyment. You’ll find some stories there.

All photographs from the George Eastman House collection are made available under a creative commons license. Details here.

Charlie Dodgson
1. Charlie Dodgson
The Library of Congress has very early color photographs from czarist Russia(!) here
Scott Taylor
2. izzylobo
There’s something about this one….called only “Woman in a Floral Silk Robe”.

A big smile for the camera,
How did she know?
The moment could be lost forever
Forever more

--R.E.M, w Natalie Merchant, Photograph, off Born to Choose

That's an amazing photo. What's interesting is that, other than the media used, it looks very much like a photo that might be taken today - I've known women who wore their hair in a similar fashion, and the robe she's in might be found in a kitschy sort of shop.

We're very lucky, here in Rochester, to have the Eastman right to hand. Which reminds me that I need to go over there and wander around again sometime soon...
Jeffrey Richard
3. neutronjockey
Though not terribly related, I ran across this illustrated history of Charles Scibner and Sons the other night. Beautiful photos.

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