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MET: Autochromes by Steichen & Stieglitz on display

The curent Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand exhibition (till 10th April) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art later this month will get a brief addition of five original autochromes by two of the legendary photographers for the first time in more than 25 years. They will be on display for one week only from 25th to 30th Jan. During the other weeks of the exhibition, reproductions of these 5 autochromes will used instead. 

Invented by the Auguste and Louis Lumiere in 1907, autochromes are one-of-a-kind transparencies that are extremely beautiful when backlit. Its invention was a milestone in the history of photography as it was the first commercially available means of making colour photographs.

The five autochromes exhibited are Steichen's portrait of Rodin in front of his sculpture The Eve and his widely reproduced portrait of Stieglitz holding an issue of his influential publication, Camera Work.These fragile photographs-composed of minute grains of potato starch dyed red, blue, and green-cannot withstand the exposure of long-term display without suffering irreversible damage.

Because of the high risk of the color fading, the Metropolitan-like most museums-has had a policy of not exhibiting its important collection of Autochromes. The Metropolitan recently completed a three-year study of the stability and light-sensitivity of Autochrome dyes, conducted by Luisa Casella, the Museum's first Mellon Research Scholar in Photo Conservation, in close collaboration with Masahiko Tsukada of the Museum's Department of Scientific Research, and supervised by Nora Kennedy, Sherman Fairchild Conservator of Photographs at the Metropolitan Museum. The study established that the Autochrome dyes are partially, though not completely, protected from light fading when in an environment where all oxygen has been removed.

Guided by this research, the Museum will display these five original autochromes within individual oxygen-free enclosures and under carefully controlled lighting conditions for just that one week only. So catch it while you can!


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