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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Revealed: The amazing pictures of Britain in colour for the very first time


By CLAIRE COHEN - More by this author » Last updated at 01:06am on 27th April 2008

Seeing the world captured in colour is something most of us take for granted.

But at the start of the 20th century, the art of photography was rather more limited - to black and white images, with various shades of grey in between.

It was not until 1907 that autochrome - the process through which colour photographs were first produced - was invented in Paris.

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Returning heroes: The Union Jack and the French Tricolour flutter above the lines of troops marching through Kinghtsbridge during the World War One victory parade in 1919

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Read all about it: A snapshot of London's Fleet Street, home of the British press in 1924

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Sweeping change: An early photograph taken in 1913 of a London residential street

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For the first time, vivid pictures of a world still largely unexplored were revealed to a mesmerised public.

And it was all thanks to the humble potato.

It was by using microscopic grains of potato starch that brothers Auguste and Louis Lumiere revolutionised photography.

They spread four million of them - dyed in shades of red, green and violet - over a glass plate, compressing them with a roller.

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Say cottage cheese: Locals pose in front of a dilapidated cottage in 1913 Cornwall

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Party time: A crowd gathers near Big Ben during the 1919 victory celebrations

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Monumental moment: After the 1919 victory parade, London's Piccadilly Circus is eerily deserted

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When the plate was exposed to light, the potato grains acted as filters and yielded a startling colour image.

French millionaire and philanthropist Albert Kahn was among the first to see the possibilities of autochrome.

He poured his entire fortune into hiring a team of photographers, which he dispatched to more than 50 countries.

His aim was to make a record of all the people of the world.

In Britain they captured, in fascinating detail, a nation on the brink of historical change and which in a few short years would be irrevocably altered by the events of World War One.

Kahn, one of the richest men in Europe, was forced to abandon his work in 1931, after losing everything in the Wall Street Crash.

However, his legacy of more than 72,000 autochromes - the best of which are published in a new book - give an invaluable glimpse of the world at the beginning of the 20th century.

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Village life: Children play on the cobbled streets of St Ives

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Picturesque: With Oxford University in the background, students punt along the Cherwell

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East Industry: Merchant ships are berthed on the bank of the Thames

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