Rare colour photos taken back in the day that show how much life has changed

  • The Lumiere brothers patented Autochrome Lumiere photography in 1903 and held their first demonstration in 1907.
  • The process involves light passing through glass plates covered in tiny grains of coloured potato starch.
  • It was the most popular way to take colour photos in the early 1900s.

Auguste and Louis Lumiere patented a colour photography process called Autochrome Lumiere in 1903 (they also invented the cinématographe in 1895). The process involves light passing through glass plates covered in tiny grains of coloured potato starch, according to the National Science and Media Museum in the UK.

The Lumiere brothers held the first public demonstration of their invention in 1907 and began selling autochrome plates shortly thereafter, making colour photography more widely available than it had ever been before.

Here are 15 autochrome photos that show life in the early 1900s in colour.


Etheldreda Janet Laing studied art in Cambridge and became an amateur photographer, often using her daughters as her subjects.

SSPL/Getty ImagesLaing’s daughter in 1908.

She took a series of autochrome portraits of her children in the summer of 1908, set in the garden of the family home known as Bury Knowle.


She photographed her daughters wearing sun hats on the balcony.

SSPL/Getty ImagesLaing’s daughters in 1908.

The younger daughter is holding a stuffed dog.


Alfred Stieglitz often featured his daughter in his portrait work as well.

Alfred Stieglitz/Wikimedia Commons/Public DomainAlfred Stieglitz’s daughter Katherine in 1910.

Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library writes that this photo could possibly have been the work ofEdward Steichen or Frank Eugene, but that it’s attributed to Stieglitz.


This couple was photographed in colour around 1910.

SSPL/Getty ImagesA couple pictured in 1910.

They were photographed having tea in their garden.


Two farm workers were photographed sometime between 1910 and 1915.

SSPL/Getty ImagesFarm workers in 1915.

The woman on the right is holding a milking stool and has a bucket at her feet and likely worked as a milkmaid.


Arthur E. Morton, honorary secretary of the Society of Colour Photographers, photographed a cobbler in 1912.

SSPL/Getty ImagesA cobbler in 1912.

The cobbler is repairing the soles of old boots while the woman on the left crochets.


Morton captured the charm of a country home in Worcestershire.

SSPL/Getty ImagesThe photograph was taken between 1910 and 1915.

The house later became a prison, according to Getty Images.


He also photographed a man posing with a besom.

SSPL/Getty ImagesThis photo was taken somewhere between 1910 and 1915.

A besom is a broom made of twigs tied together.


He dabbled in still life photography, too.

SSPL/Getty ImagesIt was taken between 1910 and 1915.

Morton photographed fruits and drinks in a still life portrait.


This portrait by British amateur photographer Emma Barton, also known as Mrs. G. A. Barton, shows a woman sitting in a garden surrounded by colourful flowers.

SSPL/Getty ImagesA portrait taken in 1919.

Barton is best known for her photo “The Awakening.” She first exhibited her work in 1901 and was featured in various publications.


A newspaper seller was photographed on the streets of Reims, France, in 1917.

Apic/Getty ImagesA newspaper seller in 1917.

Back then, that was the only way to read the news.


A girl is shown peering into a bakery and confectionary called Billings.

SSPL/Getty ImagesThe photo was taken between 1910 and 1915.

The photo was likely taken in Billing, UK.


A Mongolian yurt was photographed in autochrome in 1913.

Not much else is known about this photo.


Here’s what the entrance to the Maharaja’s Palace in Jaipur, India, looked like in 1926.

The palace is now a hotel.


William A. Gullick photographed his wife and daughters wearing different colours at home in Sydney, Australia.

Gullick worked in printing and became an amateur photographer when autochrome plates became available. Pictured are Mary, Zoe, Marjory, and Chloe Gullick.

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