Autochromes Lumière

Photographic Representation in Natural History

An Objective and Rigorous Means to Describe Species
At the Muséum national d'histoire naturelle, photography has always been perceived as an objective and rigorous means of representing reality, used in the scientific description of a species. Not only did it allow them to examine and appraise the species themselves, but they were also used in courses and conferences to aid in education. Already widely used in the second half of the 19th century, the use of photography in science did not surprisingly experience an expansion with the addition of colour at the beginning of the 20th century. Currently, the Autochrome collections of the museum are relatively modest compared to the photographic collection as a whole (465 Autochromes of 150,000 photographs).

Among the collections of the museum, the Autochrome is for the most part represented in the work of naturalists, human palaeontologists and in particular the micro-photographs of comparative anatomy. We can also find colour prints from this domain in private archives as well as some fantaisies photographiques collections, where special effects were employed to create a "fantastic" pictorial composition.

Louis Gain, Naturalist and Climatologist
The Autochromes of the naturalist and climatologist Louis Gain (1883-1963) illustrate the strengths of colour photography well. Probably around the end of the 1950s, Louis Gain gave 4,000 photographs, including 192 Autochromes, to the Muséum national d'histoire naturelle. They bear witness to a life of travelling. Between 1908 and 1910, he left on an expedition to the Antarctic with the illustrious scientific explorer, Jean-Baptiste Charcot (1867-1936) on the ship Pourquoi pas? [Why Not?]. He later accompanied Prince Albert I of Monaco on the Hirondelle 2 to the Archipelago of Azores, and in 1913, he travelled on the Africa campaigns of the Count of Polignac aboard the Sylvana. In 1914, he took part in a mission to Turkistan with his brother, Gustav Gain (1876-1945), who was a chemist at the museum.

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