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Auto Chrome Technique

Charlie Chaplin 1915 - Richard Sullivan

This is an auto chrome image that was taken in 1915 using the wet plate process. It is a portrait of Charlie Chaplin during a break from one of his movie shoots. When a autochrome image is taken, there are starch particles that are dyed red-orange, green and blue-violet. This is apparent from various the hues that are seen in the image. The black parts of Charlie Chaplin’s coat appear more red-orange than black, because all the light had to pass trough the mosaic of multi-colored particles. This gives the image “colour noise” like we would see in a long exposure taken by a digital camera at a high ISO. Auto chrome exposures take longer than a regular glass plate process, so the image must have been taken on a tripod. Charlie must have been a great subject to work with because judging by his profile, he stayed very still during the shoot.  In the background, we can see that there is lodging available in what could be an inn or a home renting out a spare room.

The image was probably taken to document Chaplin during the peak of his career. “His most famous role was that of The Tramp, which he first played in the Keystone comedy Kid Auto Races at Venice in 1914.[3] From the April 1914 one-reeler Twenty Minutes of Love onwards he was writing and directing most of his films, by 1916 he was also producing, and from 1918 composing the music.” (Wikipedia, Chaplin) So around this time Chaplin was expanding his horizons from acting to directing, producing and composing as well. Chapin was very popular at the time, but there are several other images done in the same fashion, so maybe the photographer was personal friends with Chaplin. But then again,  it could have been an avid crew member who got lucky and was able to take some shots of the star. Perhaps Chaplin was modelling to learn more about photography to be able to start taking pictures on his own!

I really like this image, It makes me think of all the possible things that were going on behind the photographer. Were they on set? Were they on a break walking around? I also like the effect of autochrome on an image, I love how the simplistic colours are much like water coloured  Black and White photographs. The image also makes me reflect on Chaplin, and how he is just leaning on the pole as if tired from a long day of shooting slapstick. It’s hard being hilarious.

I believe this an excellent example of auto-chrome, considering the process was tricky and may of the other images I liked had harsher tones and were sometimes overexposed, from the long exposure time. This image has a vignette to it, and has and overall “blue hue” to it.  The colours of the image could never be accurate, considering all the light had to pass trough the particles, even giving the blacks and whites hues of blue-violet and red-orange. I found other variations that had been edited and sharpened but this has the most characteristics of an un-edited auto-chrome.


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