Autochromes Lumière

Jules Gervais-Courtellemont, Explorer and Lecturer

"A very daring traveller, who is at the same time a very artistic photographer, Mr. Gervais-Courtellemont, has brought an invaluable collection of colour images back from the Oriental lands which he has so often traversed. The marvellous invention of two French scientists, the Lumière brothers, has allowed him to unfold before our very eyes all the spenders of these enchanting lands.[...] It is to him that we owe the finesse, the softness and the perfection of these these images, which are only to be found here and constitute a veritable artistic delight." Extract of the programme for the Visions d'Orient meeting of January 19, 1909    

An autochromiste from the beginning, Jules Gervais-Courtellemont (1863-1931) took up the practice immediately upon its commercialisation in June 1907. More than 3000 of his images were published during his lifetime and along with Léon Gimpel, with whom he shared a photographic practice, he dedicated himself to experimental investigations on the problems posed by the Autochrome technique, seeking ways to improve their sensitivity or to reproduce images through the direct contact of plates. The nature of his photographic work was however more closely related to the exotic undertaking of the Archives de la Planète, initiated by the financier and philanthropist Albert Kahn, who would steer him towards a means of distribution more appropriate to his goals and methods.

The Projection Conferences
The year 1895 marked a decisive step in Gervais-Courtellemont's use of photography. It was then that he came up with a new way to present his work: building on the traditional formula of the illustrated conference, he began to accompany his eloquent  commentaries with photographs taken on his voyages. With an intimate knowledge of the Orient and the Arabian culture (he had converted to Islam around 1894), he charged himself with the mission of bringing back images and observations from his explorations of the Terres d'Islam [Lands of Islam]. His aim was to present the results of his investigations before his French compatriots, to help them discover "this elsewhere" that was unknown to them. Projecting his images, these conferences seemed to be perfectly adapted to his purposes.

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