Thursday, October 16, 2014

The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake in Colour

Many photographers documented the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and its aftermath. Yet more than a century would pass before the public would see a view of the disaster in three-dimensional colour. The Smithsonian Institution has discovered these rare colour photographs of the ruins of San Francisco from the 1906 earthquake. The images, taken by photography pioneer Frederick Eugene Ives (1856-1937) several months after the earthquake and a year before colour photography became commercially available in 1907, appear to be the earliest colour photographs of San Francisco ever taken.

“These are possibly the only colour photographs of the earthquake and perhaps the first colour photos of San Francisco,” says Shannon Perich, the curator of the museum’s photographic history collection.

The photos that Ives made were also meant to be seen in 3-D through a viewing device. His photographs of San Francisco would end up buried among a larger collection of his work in the history collection in Washington, D.C. until Anthony Brooks, who has been volunteering at the museum for five years, stumbled upon them. “I knew there was colour photography 100 years ago,” says Brooks. “But seeing the early 20th century in full colour, as people would have seen it then, was a shock and a pleasant surprise.”

(Images: Smithsonian National Museum of American History)

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