It has always fascinated me, the relationship we have with black and white photography. The strange sense of disassociation the lack of colour presents to your senses and emotion. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not insinuating that black and white photos are emotionless, or evoke less feeling than colour photos do. I am referring to an opinion shared by some that black and white somehow distances one from the image purely by its lack of colour. I became particularly aware of this when I was in college and learned about how black and white photography is used for treating trauma. It was not black and white photography per se, but the exercise of the patient practicing to remember the traumatic experience(s) in black and white. And once they had become accustomed to doing this, they would practice seeing this experience in a frame and hanging it on a wall as it was something that they could observe at a distance. The result, in successful cases, was that they became an observer of the experience as apposed to a participant.
Quite the opposite is startlingly true I find. My association with history being in black and white, unless it is a painting of course, is so strong that I find looking at the rare, very early colour photography from the early 20th century to be almost unbelievable. A sense of “wow, it looks so real”. Yes I know I just sounded like a stoner. I particularly experience this when the photos include fashion or objects from the time that I would now see in museums. It evokes an almost painful nostalgia in me to step into the photo, back to that time.
Below are a collection of some of the earliest known colour photographs for you to enjoy. And to those early pioneers of colour photography, I salute you!
French Soldier Eating Lunch WWI
Dagestani couple posed outdoors for a portrait. Taken in 1904.
Lulworth Cove, Dorset, in 1913