autochrome christmas

 thank you for reading or just stopping by!
Autochromes c. 1920s by Charles Zoller.  Zoller (1854-1934) was a successful furniture dealer and prolific amateur photographer from Rochester, NY. On a trip to Europe in 1907 he became acquainted with the brand new autochrome process and started photographing in color. He documented life in Rochester and recorded journeys across the country and in Europe. The George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film, in Rochester, houses approximately 3900 Zoller autochromes. While many betray Zoller's seeming fascination with photographing trees, flowers and close-up portraits of citrus fruit, the selection online will reward the patient viewer. 



The clumsy Chippendale crest shape is a spot-on evocation of the strenuous efforts of a journeyman sign maker, c 1780s.
This sort of lettering puts us squarely in the second quarter of the 19th century
As much as it appears otherwise at first glance, the signs here are not the stock of some high-end Americana dealer. They were all created by Heidi Howard, a Rhode Island School of Design graduate, in her Eastford, Connecticut studio. The boards are actual aged wood planks whenever possible, and the hand-painted and lettered signs are assembled with antique hand-cut nails. The whole duly aged and weathered and... We've entered dangerous territory here haven't we? A knowing, labor-intensive recreation of an ostensibly serendipitously found naive, ephemeral object? Kitsch or cuteness? I'm torn. I'm genuinely drawn to many of these—I love the awkwardness.* Taken individually, the aesthetic spirit conjured is quite beautiful. The decorative shapes and silhouettes look suitably like the earnest efforts of a rural journeyman sign maker c. 1800. The lettering, punctuation, and spacing is near pitch perfect. The research and historical knowledge is emphatically there. And yet I wouldn't be wholly surprised to find one in a Massachusetts TGI Fridays. Which makes me sad. // All signs by the undeniably talented Heidi Howard

* “naive” and primitive lettering and figures like this can be found on gravestones (see here and here). Several of Ms Howard's signs take cues from the spindly, hesitating lettering of early and mid 18th century, elsewhere she takes on the look of the “fat face” and decorative letters of the 1830s.


color me impressed

This morning I woke up repeating "Stygian Black".
Stygian is the adjectival form for the mythological River Styx... as in the boundary of the Underworld. Scary sounding dream, right? EXCEPT in the dream I was saying it in the context of some fashion, color-naming brainstorming session. Thus, it was actually some sort of wish fulfillment... because I've always wanted to get paid to be a color namer for paint. Here, a good color (re)post from the archives:

I just read a book I'd gotten months ago and promptly forgot about, "Color: a natural history of the palette" by Victoria Finlay. The author, a British journalist living in Hong Kong, sets out to explore the origins--historical, cultural, physical-- of pigments and dyes. The book,
organized loosely by color swatch, is sometimes weighted down with her travelogues of traipsing off to China for fabled greens or meandering through Afghanistan in search of ultramarine mines. But what, early on, had annoyed me to the point of putting the book on the shelf: the chatty, lady's magazine lightness proved to be less of an obstacle as the book wore on. I tend to like bits and pieces, historical oddities and unraveled edges and it certainly provides just that.

In the book,
color, something we think of in benign almost frivolous terms (pink or blue case for your cellphone), takes on gritty physicality, volatility, even toxicity. Metals, stones, berries, bark, insects, shells are ground, smoked, burnt and acidified. Through distilling and decanting, arcane alchemical processes produce miraculous results.

The often harsh paradoxes of the material form of color are amazing. Velvety rich blacks rendered from oak gall, soot, and charred bone, brilliant reds from beetles, pristine white from a red dust.
Fugitive and unstable, there's an almost spiteful nature to unfixed color-- saintly whites turn black, brilliant reds fade to sickly pink, and puritan blacks that turn a disturbing orange. The almost allegorical danger inherent in many of these colors is fascinating as well: lead white, used extensively in cosmetics and paint and prized for its transcendent luminosity, caused "plumbism" and slowly destroyed one's liver, kidneys and mind. Arsenic used to fashion Scheele's Green, which accented Napoleon's wallpaper on St. Helena, may have contributed to his death.
Here's where one can learn a bit about wonderful things like Gamboge, Mummy and Orpiment:
• Museum of Fine Art Boston: conservation and art materials encyclopedia
• Also, a paint-making site.---
images: I'm obsessed with paint color chips-- the typology aspects, the naming, the...prettiness. At top are some Benjamin Moores, below Farrow & Ball (a company I've written about before, in one of my favorite posts from a simpler time); a weaving color/pattern sample book made in 1763 by John Kelly of Norwich, England, from the Victoria & Albert Museum; powdered colors for painting on velvet, 1814, also from the V&A. The three bottles are labelled 'Ackermann's brilliant carmine', 'W H Edwards's lilac purple', and 'W H Edwards's sunflower yellow'.; three of five bottles of dye powder I found when a dye works was being dismantled on Spring and Thompson Streets around 1998, if you can believe. They are from 1951-54 and are labelled things like "Benzo Fast Yellow" from appealing, monolithically-named companies like General Dyestuff Corporation and National Aniline Division of the Allied Chemical and Dye Company.


Empire state of mind

(I see here some historical precedence for the Bukharan McMansions of Queens)
Armenian woman
carpet seller (detail)
fruit seller (detail)
above two, typical natives of Dagestan
Sergey Mikhaylovich Prokudin-Gorsky (August 30 1863 – September 27, 1944), the photographer behind all of these images, was a Russian of noble extraction who studied chemistry under Mendeleev (creator of the periodic table). Moving to Berlin for more study, Gorsky applied his scientific background to photo chemical processing. He developed a pioneering method of creating color slide film and color motion pictures, and eventually garnered patents in Germany, England, France and Italy.
His process used a camera that took a series of three monochrome pictures in sequence, each through a different-colored filter. By projecting all three monochrome pictures using correctly colored light, it was possible to reconstruct the original color scene. (wikipedia)
Around 1905 Gorsky started devising a plan to systematically document the vast diversity of the Russian empire. Accomplished and well-connected, he was invited in 1909 to make a photographic demonstration for Tsar Nicholas and his family. The presentation went over so well that the ill-fated monarch gave Gorsky a specially equipped railroad-car darkroom, two skeleton key permits granting him access to restricted areas around the empire and cooperation from the far-flung bureaucracy. Suddenly, his herculean project became possible. Gorsky documented the Russian Empire from 1909 through 1915, and gave photo lectures thereafter. He eventually fled the country shortly after the Revolution, with the authorities confiscating about half his archive because of purportedly “sensitive material”.

After settling in Paris, Gorsky stored the remainder of his photographs and fragile glass plates in the basement of his apartment building. A few years after his death, in 1948, the US Library of Congress purchased the material from his heirs for $3500–$5000. Outside the Library of Congress collection, nothing else of Gorsky's work has yet been found.
Sergey Mikhaylovich Prokudin-Gorsky in 1912


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