Autochromes Lumière

Antoine Lumière & Sons (1884 - 1892)

In the winter of 1870-71, Antoine Lumière established his photographic studio at rue de la Barre in Lyon. His business prospered and his name was found under the "photographer" category in the Lyon municipal indexes until 1885. With his inquisitive mind, he was quick to become interested in all photographic innovations. He instinctively understood that the future of photography lay in the hands of leisured amateurs, rather than professional operators. When the dry silver gelatino-bromide plates of the Belgian van Monkhoven appeared on the market, Antoine Lumière intuitively sensed the possibilities that were opened by the plate. They could in effect be prepared in advance, kept by individuals and used when desired.

At first, Antoine Lumière attempted to manufacture the plates on his own while maintaining his photographic studio, and turned his basement into a workshop. It was not to be him however, but his son Louis, aged 17 at the time, who would succeed in reproducing the van Monkhoven procedure. Young Louis' plates also improved on the Belgian's original plate, as the emulsion he devised was more stable, it didn't require heavy washing and seemed to be reproducible on an industrial scale. Antoine decided then and there to cease his activities as a photographer and to devote himself to creating a factory for these "quick" photographic plates.

Antoine Lumière, who always had an eye on the "big picture," soon passed from the workshop stage to the industrial stage. He wanted to create a veritable factory, preferably on a site that would allowed him to escape municipal taxes on coal, glass and chemical products, which brought him to the Monplaisir district of Lyon. For one year, this small eastern suburb had been connected to place Bellecour, in the centre of Lyon, by a horse-drawn tramway. In June 1882, Lumière rented a site in Monplaisir (21, 23, 25 rue Saint-Victor) from a Parisian hatter, Pierre-Eugène Galoffre. But by the end of 1882, the sum required for the investment had become too great and he was almost ruined.

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