Autochromes Lumière

Léon Gimpel, Reporter for Illustration

The Official Presentation by Illustration
When Léon Gimpel (1873-1948) first discovered the Autochrome, he called it "the eighth wonder of the world." An amateur photographer for the French newspaper Illustration since 1904, he soon had the opportunity to bring the new procedure with him on an assignment to photograph the Danish royalty who were visiting France. His portrait of the royal couple was published in the June 15, 1907 edition of Illustration, which became the first newspaper in France to print a photograph in true colour. Soon after, Léon Gimpel authored an article describing how the Lumière brothers had put the principles of thrichromatic photography to work, using the French flag to illustrate the principle. These privileged connections to the Lumières helped him organise an official presentation of the Autochrome in the offices of the paper two days after this initial publication.

Colour Reproduction at the Printers
From the moment his first article appeared in 1907, Léon Gimpel was interested in the method by which these colours could be reproduced in the printed edition. "The natural glass positives obtained by the Autochrome plates serve as the originals to which we applied the 'three colour' principle. This procedure gave us three typographic images, with these we were able to successively print the elementary reds, yellows and blues, according to which the mixture and superposition faithfully reproduce the same colours as the photographed subject."

In the 1930s, the now very successful newspaper built one of the largest and most modern printing houses in europe in the Parisian suburb of Bobigny. The weekly journal had two sophisticated printing techniques at their disposal: the rotogravure and the offset. The offset made Illustration a pioneer periodical, as this technique would not generally be employed by the press until many years later after the Second World War. By 1933, the year of the inauguration of their new headquarters, Illustration owned three models with seven offset machines for printing in colour. Each week, the articles were enriched with coloured prints and every year the Christmas edition was eagerly awaited for its explosion of colour. Right up until its end in 1944, the first French language illustrated weekly paper reproduced Autochromes for the pleasure of its readers.

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