1. Tiger, London Zoo, c. 1907
If it wasn’t for the hats and bonnets in the background, you could be forgiven for thinking this picture was taken yesterday. This clarity is a typical feature of autochrome images: a colour photography system invented by the Lumière brothers in 1907 and praised for its realistic, sharp results.
2. Caroline Trevor, New York, 1919
Autochrome was an expensive process and only the very well-to-do could afford the equipment. This image was taken by wealthy New York lawyer John Bond Trevor Sr and shows his wife Caroline all dressed up and ready for a night on the town.
3. Cornish village, c. 1913
French millionaire and philanthropist Albert Kahn was among the first to see the possibilities of autochrome. He funded a project called The Archives of the Planet that aimed to document the whole world in colour. His photographers travelled to 50 countries between 1912 and 1931 and took over 72,000 autochromes.
4. Farmer, Cornwall. c. 1913
When Albert Kahn’s photographers reached the UK, they were able to (quite literally) take a snapshot of the nation just two years before the outbreak of the First World War changed things forever.
5. Little girl with doll, France, 1914
When war finally broke out, Albert Kahn’s photographers were perfectly placed to document daily life at the embattled heart of the Western Front. Here, a little girl casually plays with her doll next to a soldier’s discarded backpack and rifles.
6. The Somme, 1916
Albert Kahn’s photographers even visited the trenches and took photos of French soldiers just days before the infamous Battle of the Somme in 1916. The battle was one of the largest of World War I: more than 1,000,000 men were wounded or killed.
7. Soldiers, France, 1917
Paul Castelnau was a talented autochromist who contributed to Albert Kahn’s project. When war broke out, he was drafted into service and documented the conflict from the front lines. You can view more of Castelnau’s photographs here.
8. Piccadilly Circus, London, 1919
The photographers were also around to document the celebrations at the end of the First World War. ‘Peace Day’ was celebrated in June 1919 and saw hundreds of thousands of revellers throng London’s streets for parades and victory parties… though they’d clearly all finished revelling by the time this photo was taken.
9. The Lumière family, La Ciotat, c. 1910
Why bother inventing a revolutionary photographic process if you can’t have a bit of fun with it? This autochrome shows Antoine Lumière’s young sons Auguste and Louis on a day trip in 1910. Sadly, Antoine died the following year.
10. Woman buying vegetables, France, c. 1908
Jean-Baptiste Tournassoud was a friend of the Lumières and used their innovative autochrome plates to record day to day life in his home town. He later became one of the first photographers to document the First World War in colour.
11. German prisoners of war, France, c. 1914
This haunting Jean-Baptise Tournassoud image shows German P.O.W.s at a camp in France. During the war years (1914 to 1918), Tournassoud took over 800 autochrome plates documenting the conflict.
12. Alfred Raymond Turner, Agnes May Turner and Wilfred Sidney Turner, 1902
In 1902, inventor Edward Turner came up with a new film making method that involved coloured filters. This footage of his children (Alfred, Agnes and Wilfred) was recovered and digitally restored by the National Media Museum in Bradford. You can view other recovered images from the home movie here.
13. Woman in formal dress, Italy, c. 1910
Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky was another early pioneer of colour photography. Instead of using Lumière autochromes, the Russian inventor created his own method using three coloured filters that imitated the way the human eye interprets colour.
14. Boy on wall, Russia, c. 1913
This eerily clear photograph of a young Russian boy shows just how well Prokudin-Gorsky’s method worked… if the subject sat still. If they moved, the different coloured images couldn’t be matched up, leading to ghosting in the final version.
15. Two girls together in a garden, Oxford, 1908
Gifted amateur photographer Etheldreda Janet Laing took up photography in the late 1890s and took a large number of autochrome portraits between 1907 and 1915. Her favourite subjects were her two young daughters, Iris and Janet.
16. Christina wearing a red cloak, Dorset, c. 1913
It’s almost impossible to believe this striking image is over a century old. It was taken by Lt. Col. Mervyn O’Gorman, a legendary British aeronautical engineers and a skilled amateur photographer. The subject is his teenage daughter, Christina. You can see more photos from the same set here.
Please note, the term Edwardian era is sometimes extended beyond Edward VII’s death in 1910 to include the First World War and the years leading up to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. We’ve used the extended definition in this case to allow us to showcase the best images from the period.