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Henri Gaud
Photographe pour les Editions GAUD
Editions familiales publiant des livres
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en premier lieu les abbayes cisterciennes
puis le vitrail contemporain et
aujourd'hui majoritairement
les jardins contemporains
le rapport minéral végétal.

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Emmanuel Bigler is a professor (now retired) in optics and microtechnology at ENSMM, Besançon, France, an engineering college (École Nationale Supérieure d'Ingénieurs) in mechanical engineering and microtechnology.
He got his Ph.D. degree from Institut d'Optique, Orsay (France).
E. Bigler uses an Arca-Swiss 6X9 FC view camera.







A collection of autochrome plates 
From 1916 to 1930

par Henri Gaud

Stereoscopic pairs 6x13 cm 
Brought at a Drouot auction in Paris in 1977

The only indications are Port-Cros (April 1924) Nargis (November 1923) Rambouillet-Cernay (1924)

Our heroine : She does not look easy-going, probably her good mood has vanished during WW-I. Interior shot. With a film of sensitivity 1 ISO, exposure time was probably very long, this might explain why she looks strained. Details on the newspaper are clearly visible, but, too bad, no date in the field.

Details of the newspaper page. Potato starch grains are clearly visible, but my feeling is that the blue, green and red coloured starch grains interfere unpleasantly with the Bayer mosaic of my Canon 1 Ds MkII sensor. 


Technical details in highlights and shadows : D (HL)= 1.52 ; D (S)= 2.16.


Our heroine again, probably on holidays. With a little training you'll be able to see the relief of this stereoscopic pair. Those 6x13 shots are mounted between two glasses and can be examined with a Planox stereoscope viewer, a semi-automatic device where the views are carried to projector with a magnet.



Our heroine : poetry of flowers, an eternal value ;-) Hue rendition is very nice, colour separation is good, thanks to the trichrome selection process in autochrome plates, saturations are at a good level, despite the low contrast of the process, exposure is well done probably thanks to the kind of "spotmeter" used at the time, a "Justophot".


Our heroine poses in front of Mediterranean flowers & plants, image rendition is still very interesting, no colour shifts, shadows are very neutral, highlights are not burned, even the hat shows many details.


The ideal couple, the assortment of tones is rather funny, the lady looks sulky, we should probably blame the strong direct sun light for this attitude.


Probably a small technical problem, might be an under-exposure corrected by an appropriate processing, or an attempt to apply the Zone System before it was invented ; this could be possible with this black and white film where the same silver halide layer manages contrast for the three primary colours.


One may admire the rendition of fine details, highlight are very clean, full of details, shadows are reasonably dense. Probably a Mediterranean landscape not far from the coast.


Here is the Riviera. Our photographer travelled by boat, this collection is composed of about 500 stereo pairs, about forty of them on autochrome plates. Our photographer's boat is often visible on the images.


The boat is clearly visible in the distance, so this world is not a poor men's world. Autochrome plates are quite expensive, even more than black and white, autochrome photography is reserved to rich photographers, a single autochrome plate costs as much as a full box of B&W plates (12 glass plates per box at the time). Now the lady needs a walking stick, time has elapsed, she is no longer in her twenties...


Green bands are typical problems that can arise with autochromes. Potato starch grains do not age very well if the autochrome is not protected from ambient air. Those stereoscopic autochrome plates after processing have to be cut in two halves and re-mounted sandwiched between another glass so that the stereo pair is in the correct left/right viewing position. The whole sandwich is wrapped inside a piece of black sticking paper, if everything goes well, the autochrome will remain in good condition for decades, which is surprising taking into account how strange the autochrome process can be.


A typical view like stereoscopists loved them, looking for enhancing visible stereo effects. The close foreground yields an incredible feeling of depth when the autochrome is observed with the stereo viewer.


Venice, very probably, The story does not tell us if the photographer could actually enter the city canals on board his boat, probably yes, if we refer to other B&W pictures which tell us about a long trip all around the Mediterranean sea. On this view, colours look really faithful to true reality.


Those views have different tones, even if globally they are quite homogeneous. In order to preserve the subtle differences, copies have been made with a dedicated white balance by reference to a light-box. The Planox stereo viewer was equipped with a "daylight" illuminating system, in fact a conventional tungsten bulb strongly corrected by a rather deep blue filter. Many details can be seen in the shadows, and as far as where the picture has been taken, like for other pictures of this collection, it is puzzle left to our readers' sagacity.


A few hints to help identifying where the pictures were taken. Some will suggest Corsica. Lighting conditions are not far from true back lighting, nevertheless image rendition is very acceptable. For decades, back lighting was the "pet hate" of amateur photographers; neither vintage optics nor film could manage it properly. Exposure is perfectly correct, one second at f/16 for 1 ISO equivalent sensitivity, the famous "sunny-16" rule has been well tried and tested for at least one century.


A well deserved rest after this long journey, comfortably sheltered in this home decorated with somewhat ridiculous fake turrets, pure « Côte d'Azur », typical Riviera-style, a more than questionable architectural style ;-) Besides that, the place looks perfectly charming. The camera should be well secured on a tripod when exposure time is one to two seconds. Shadows are well detailed, as well as highlights, by virtues of the winter Mediterranean sun and flexibility of the autochrome process; may be a modern colour slide film would not perform so well.


This is my favourite image in the series. This picture is perfect, very good chromatic balance for an interior shot in available light. I dare to say that we had to wait for modern digital photography in order to manage mixed colour temperatures like autochromes did in the past.


The "economy" page. Dates taken into account are 1930-2004. The reference catalogue and price list for 1930 is Photo-Plait's, a well-known Parisian photo store and mail order house at the time (the store still existed in the 1980's). Autochrome plates were sold per packs of four at a price of 13.10 French Francs (FRF) for each 4-pack of 6x13 cm plates. Processing and mounting stereo pairs was charged 4.8 FRF per plate i.e. a total cost of about 8 FRF per processed plate. The Planox stereo viewer was sold 1065 FRF in 1930. The price for the Justophot "automatic" photometer was 175 FRF. The price of the 6x13 Heidoscop camera with a 4.5 tessar lens and plate holder cassette was 4100 FRF. The INSEE (French National Institute for Statistics and Economy) price index suggests the following price conversion rate : one FRF in 1930 is equivalent to 0.5 euro in 2004. In terms of modern prices, the camera would cost 2670 euro, each processed plate was charged 8 FRF at the time i.e. 4 euros in 2004. If I can trust various informations gathered on the web, the salary of a worker or employee in 1930 was equivalent to 4250 euros per year, i.e. 350 euro per month.

Assuming that you are lucky enough to earn 3000 euros per month today, if you convert the price for stereo + autochrome photographic equipment in terms of months of your salary, the conversion yields 34 euros per plate and 23000 euros for the camera.


SOf course those attempts to convert old 1930 prices in terms of modern 2004 economy are definitely questionable, However the evaluations help us to understand the situation, and explain the "natural" correlation between the photographer boat's size and the cost of stereo autochrome photography presented in this collection.



Henri Gaud - 2005
traduit par Emmanuel Bigler


After the publication of this article, Mr. Jorn Ake, one of our readers living in the United States, has been able to identify several places where the images have been taken. Many thanks to him.

M. Henri Gaud:

I am not certain if you have already received this suggestion already, but I think the stereographic autochromes that you have posted at the following url: www.galerie-photo.com/autochrome_plate.html  are from a tour of Croatia. The bridge photographed is assuredly the bridge at Mostar, recently rebuilt by the Bosnian government at some expense. And the image further down, suggesting the Riviera, is actually Dubrovnik seen from the south. The shot that suggests Corsica is I believe Trogir or another of the seaside towns towards Split (as I believe is the "Venetian" scene though I think that is further north in a town in Istria called Rovinj, but I might be mistaken here.) Additionally, the botanical photographs are from the very extensive gardens to the north of Dubrovnik, gardens which only exist in part any longer. At any rate, the photos are most likely from a Croatian excursion (not uncommon even today to boat back and forth across the sea from Italy to Croatia for a good fish meal!) and given the hostilities there in the latter half of the twentieth century, represent several areas which no longer look as these photos represent. A nice document. Thank you.


Jorn Ake

post-scriptum: I hope I am correct! I think that I am on all except the Venetian- style photo, which may in fact be Venice as Venice sits at the elbow between Croatia & Italy. Perhaps these travelers circumnavigated the shores of the Adriatic to reach Dubrovnik, stopping or originating in Venice. That would be logical.



To see the stereoscopic pairs :


version française


dernière modification de cet article : 2005



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