Here, in “Please Don’t Take My Photochrome,” courtesy of Geoff Manaugh at BLDGBLOG, are a good bunch of photochrome photographs of European and North African buildings housed at the Library of Congress. Manaugh writes: “Each image has a strangely volumetric beauty, enhanced by subtle depths of shade, that results from a development and printing process that also produced these otherworldly intensities of color.”
Yet, the sensibilities of today will mock these photos as virtually colorless. This merely demonstrates the mass deadening of perception that requires that only bright color is deemed colorful these days. Subtlety, whether in coloration or in virtually any other aspect of decoration or form, is out of style. Only boldness that pokes you in the eye or whacks you upside the head counts as creative nowadays. It’s the same in architecture and product design. If it’s not way different it’s not different at all.
Are all the buildings in these photos history? Even in Europe I dread to suppose that they are all long gone, as long gone as photocromy itself as an art or as a tool of documentation. The houses on the bridge pictured above, however, survive, according to Manaugh. The mere fact that he makes note of this suggests that most of the rest have been demolished. Manaugh also notes where “small moments of modernity” pop up, such as in the scene of the finicular (vertical cable railway) in Marseilles. But look just above at the tubes emerging from the buildings by which the nuns (?) stroll in Algiers!
The shots capture how time adds grace to architecture of a certain age. Some cities could serve as subjects for this beautiful photographic technique. New Orleans, Charleston, Providence, Boston – almost any city with a stock of old buildings that have not had their venerable qualities “restored” out of them.
Manaugh offers a link to more of these images from the Library of Congress. If you value the stroking of your senses, you will press that button!