At the end of the 19th century Orientalisme is in fashion, some photographers specialised themselves about these landscapes, making images thanks to an early color process: photochrome.
The Photochrom was invented in the 1880s by Hans-Jakob SCHMID (1865-1924), an employee of the Swiss publishing company Orell Füssil & Cie. We obtained the technique from a black and white photographic negative, basing on the process of color lithography. Thanks to the Photochrom, it was now possible to put many colors in the photograph. However, we had not still reached automatic work. In other words, we had to retouch each image manually according to the color. The choice of color required the interpretation of a performer to have more details in the photo. Consequently, the photochrom prints did not seem natural. At the beginning of the 20th century, they were quickly sold out in tourist spots, particularly in the Middle East.
Palestine, which had just opened doors to the Occident under the Ottoman Empire, flourished rapidly in the middle of the 19th century as a melting pot of civilization and, for the Europeans, as a recovered paradise. The photographs on Palestine provoked a new and striking sensitivity to Europeans.
After the invention of photography in 1826, the desire to have color photographs was always an obsession. In the 1880s, despite considerable progress in photography, the photos had been still monochrome. Different experiments had been done. For example, some people had colored the negatives (Hand-coloring of photographs), and others had applied the Trichromy theory to photography.
A revolutionary invention in photography occurred in the 1880s. The Photochrom was invented by Hans-Jakob SCHMID (1856-1924) who was an employee of the Swiss publishing company Orell Füssli & Cie. The company applied for a patent for the Photochrom both in Europe and in the United States on January 4th,1888. The company also commercialized the Photochrom via its new subsidiary Photochrom Zurich (now Photoglob Zurich) in 1895. In fact, the technique was already tested both in Vienna and France in 1860-1870s. However, the Orell Füssli & Cie was the first to really exploit the Photochrom since 1889.
The Photochrom is based on the color lithographic printing process, using a monochrome negative. To create the Photochrom, several lithographic stones had to be produced: one stone for each color. This quantity varied depending on the required final image. These stones were coated with bitumen which, once exposed to sunlight through a negative, hardens and makes the areas exposed to light insoluble. They were then etched with acid. The image became imprinted on the stone in bitumen. Each tint was applied to each different stone that bore the retouched image.
The charming character of the Photochrome resided in its enormous chromatic possibilities. We could use up to 14 stones to have detailed nuances. Therefore, the Photochrom left an important part to the creativity of a colorist, real performer of the process. The performer executed a skillful composition between reality and interpretation. Photochrom prints delighted the eye of the people of the era thanks to the subtle alchemy.
The Photochrom Zurich and Detroit Publishing Company produced exclusively photochrom prints. They bought negatives from photographers of the time, such as Félix BONFILS (1831-1885), Francis FRITH (1822-1898), William-Henry JACKSON (1843-1942), Jean-Pascal SÉBAH (1872-1947) and Polycarpe JOAILLIER (1848-1904), Félix- Jacques MOULIN (1802-1879) and so on. Most of them provoked a sensation of their contemporaries through their photographs on the Middle East.
The photochrom prints were very popular around the 1890s. Although color photography has been invented, it had not yet been commercialized at that time. The Photochrom process won a gold medal at the Paris Universal Exposition in 1889. This technique was exported to the United States via the Detroit Publishing Company in 1897 as well. The company produced up to seven million photochrom prints in some years and offered ten to thirty thousand different views. At the beginning of the 20th century, photochrom prints were sold a lot in tourist sites, particularly in the Middle East, which fascinated Europeans. The subjects were mostly grand monuments, landscapes, notable events, and exotic everyday life.
In the 19th century, following the opening of the Ottoman Empire to the Occident, Palestine aroused considerable enthusiasm among Europeans. Because, for them, the territory was a recovered paradise. The recognition of Palestine began from Bonaparte’s campaign of Egypt (1798-1801). The scientists accompanied his campaign to complete the first cartography of the province. Furthermore, the stories on the recovered paradise were established by many writers, especially, François-René de Châteaubriand (1768-1848). Many European tourists and "travel" photographers rushed naturally to Palestine. These photographers were initially empowered by scientific institutions or organizations. Their goal was not to show the reality as Palestine presented itself, but to establish the images which were very present in the imagination of the Occident on this place. They performed their work with so many passions to witness a Palestinian reality in danger of disappearing against a massive Western influence in spite of the harsh and dangerous conditions in Palestine.
Armenian photographers took a picture of all the landscapes of the Middle East from Constantinople to Cairo. They transmitted a chronicle of Middle Eastern society of the 19th century through their negatives. At the start, this practice became widespread in monasteries, for example, the monks Garabedian and Krikorian at St. James Monastery in Jerusalem, the Guiragossian or Sarafian of Beirut and Halladjian of Haifa. The most famous Armenian photographers in the 19th century were the three brothers Abdullah, Hovsep (1830-1908), Viçen (1820-1902) and Kevork (1839-1918). They managed a studio which they bought from a German chemist in 1858 under the name of Abdullah Brothers.
Other photography studios existed in Jerusalem in the Armenian town. One of the most important was the studio Elia Photo Service (Kahvedjian Family) which exists since 1924. The studio handles the photos taken by Elia Kahvedjian (1910-1999) but also those of other famous photographers. Some photographs date from 1860. All photographs of the studio serve as historical testimony about Jerusalem or its surroundings.
In Europe, thousands of photographs from Palestine amplified the admiration for the Orient by mean of a photo album or some magazines such as L’Illustration (1843-1944) or Le Tour du Monde (1860-1914). The higher the standard of quality from a new tourist clientele was, the more we wanted to have color photographs. In the 1880s, the Photochrom was finally born to satisfy these demands.
The beautiful era of the Photochrom was gradually declining in the 1910s. This technique finally disappeared when the first color films arrived in 1935. Today, photochrom prints are present in many collections, such as the Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris and the Bibliothèque Forney in Paris, the Swiss Camera Museum in Vevey, the Whitney Museum, the Library of Congress in Washington and the Queen Sofia Museum in Spain.