Autochromes Lumière

The "Little Factory" of Colours

"It took me seven years of uninterrupted effort. I did nothing else during this long period... I never lost courage." Louis Lumière

The inventor of the Etiquette bleue was, like all photographers of his era, fascinated by colour. Louis Lumière read everything written on the subject and made contact with all the inventors. From 1891 to 1894, he was most interested in the methods of colour photography put forward by Gabriel Lippmann, whose work he committed himself to studying and improving. On April 28, 1894, the two brothers received les palmes académiques, their first recognition for their work on colour. In 1893 they deposited a number of patents improving the synthesis of colours by trichromatic selection, and they supplied plates and products for the reproduction of colours. By 1894 however, Louis had realised that the Lippmann process would not allow them to attain the necessary speed or the transfer of colours to paper. He began to explore a new path, one that would take him seven years to perfect: the additive synthesis of colours.

The Patent of December 17, 1903. Describing the Principle.
"The objective of the present invention is the preparation of photosensitive plates, producing coloured images with the aid of simple manipulations, analogous to those that one uses in ordinary photography with blacks. These plates are characterised by the interposition, between a photosensitive layer and the glass that provides support, of a screening layer formed of coloured granules..."

Commercialisation Began in 1907
The factory procedures and production materials were difficult to perfect. They required construction of another workshop ("the little factory" on boulevard Gambetta, in the report by the Crédit Lyonnais agent), creation of adequate machinery, and the training of specialised personnel. First, it was necessary to find granules of potato starch of an appropriate size, between 0.011 to 0.015 mm, in sufficient quantity. French starch producers did not produce fine enough granules. But it was through his neighbours, the Demuves, that Louis acquired a mill in Juré, in the mountains near Lyon where potatoes were abundant. Later, in 1912, he approached a supplier from Breuches-les-Luxeuil, in the region of Haute-Saône, and the granules of starch were then sorted upon arrival in Monplaisir.

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