The Astonishing Cinematic Autochrome Photography From The 1890s By Heinrich Kühn

The rise of photography in the mid-late 19th-century began the move away from an oral and literary tradition towards one based on image. A photograph can describe a moment in time more viscerally than the written word.

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Technology dictates form. When cameras were big box brutes – heavy, unwieldy things that took an age to process an image -photography was best served by landscape, as little moved other than the trees under the breath of the wind.

As cameras slowly changed during the 1890s, becoming lighter, more manoeuvrable, there grew a desire among photographs to create more artistic images. pictures that rivalled painting for their impressionistic beauty. One pioneer of this trend was Heinrich Kühn, a German-born amateur photographer. Back then, most photographers were amateurs. It was an expensive hobby. Only those who could afford to pay for the technology, the processing, the darkroom, and the time necessary indulge their hobby.

Kühn was the son of successful merchants. He was born in Dresden and studied medicine and science. He gave up his studies to focus on photography. He was able to do this because of an allowance he inherited from his father. He moved to Vienna and became part of the Vienna Camera Club, where he was influenced by the city’s Secession artists who believed in creating Getsumkunstwerk or a total work of art.

From 1890 onwards, Kühn started working on creating his “total art” photographs. His pictures were described as “painterly” and “impressionistic” but to our modern eye look more like movie stills from some great, unreleased film.

Dressed in his linen suit, Panama hat, gold-rimmed spectacles and luxuriant moustache, Kühn directed his wife and children to perform for his camera.

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