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Michael Barnes

Austin in the 1910s: A wonderland of color

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This snippet is taken from my American-Statesman story on UT physics professor John Kuehne and his autochrome plates of Austin scenes from the early 20th century.

e_jmk_0005We tend to picture Austin’s distant past in black and white. For more than 100 years — from the 1820s to the 1930s — most photographic images were rendered in variations of just two hues.

e_jmk_0008-2As early as the 1850s, however, photographers were tinkering with a range of colors. Among the pioneers was a University of Texas physics professor named John Kuehne.

e_jmk_0001.jpgUsing the autochrome technique of capturing images on glass, the founder of the university’s photography program produced startling color pictures of Austin during the first decades of the 20th century.

e_jmk_0004Some of the campus shots were reproduced in a recent issue of the Alcalde, the indispensable magazine of the Texas Exes alumni group. Several dozen additional gems are housed at UT’s Briscoe Center for American History.

e_jmk_0002“We’d like to digitize all of them as soon as possible,” Briscoe photo archivist Amy Bowman says. “The color dyes used in autochromes are extremely vulnerable, and you can see how many of them are fading. They’re in good storage conditions, so we can delay this deterioration, but we can’t reverse it.”