The colors of catastrophe

Rediscovered autochrome photography of the First World War

The devastating events of the First World War were captured in myriad photographs on all sides of the front. Since then, thousands of books of black-and-white photographs of the war have been published as all nations endeavour to comprehend the scale and the carnage of the “greatest catastrophe of the 20th century”. Far less familiar are the rare colour images of the First World War, taken at the time by a small group of photographers pioneering recently developed autochrome technology.

To mark the centenary of the outbreak of war, this groundbreaking volume brings together all of these remarkable, fully hued pictures of the „war to end war“. Assembled from archives in Europe, the United States and Australia, more than 320 colour photos provide unprecedented access to the most important developments of the period – from the mobilization of 1914 to the victory celebrations in Paris, London and New York in 1919. The volume represents the work of each of the major autochrome pioneers of the period, including Paul Castelnau, Fernand Cuville, Jules Gervais-Courtellemont, Léon Gimpel, Hans Hildenbrand, Frank Hurley, Jean-Baptiste Tournassoud and Charles C. Zoller.

Since the autochrome process required a relatively long exposure time, almost all of the photos depict carefully composed scenes, behind the rapid front-line action. We see poignant group portraits, soldiers preparing for battle, cities ravaged by military bombardment – daily human existence and the devastating consequences on the front. A century on, this unprecedented publication brings a startling human reality to one of the most momentous upheavals in history.
The author:
Peter Walther has edited various publications on literary, photographic, and contemporary historical themes, including books on Goethe, Fontane, Thomas Mann, and writers in the First World War, as well as several illustrated books with historical colour photographs. He has also curated several exhibitions. He is particularly interested in early colour photography techniques.
The First World War in Colour

The First World War in Colour


Hardcover, 8.3 x 11.2 in., 384 pages
$ 59.99
Edition: English
Availability: In Stock
  • Reviews
“…an entirely new view of that bitter conflict.”

— Aura Magazine, Manchester, United Kingdom
  • FAQ - Frequently asked questions
1. How long have genuine colour photos existed?
Individual attempts were made to take colour photographs as early as the 19th century. From 1902 onwards, the three-colour system was used for professional purposes, in printing books and journals. In the field of amateur photography, colour photography began to assert itself with the introduction of the autochrome technique in 1907.
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