Autochrome, circa 1915
5 x 7 inches
Arnold Genthe was already well-established as a photographer when the Autochrome process came along. His black-and-white images ranged from fluid, gauzy studies of Isadora Duncan and other modern dancers to gritty documentary pictures of San Francisco during the earthquake-and-fire disaster of 1906. Genthe lost his studio in the quake, but managed to keep photographing with the aid of a borrowed camera. He was also famous for an earlier series of life inside San Francisco's Chinatown.
This autochrome reflects the soft-focus pictorialist style for which Genthe was noted. It is housed in a deluxe Diascope viewer, covered in pigskin leather and with a velvet cushion opposite the image inside -- an echo of the beautiful cases that held daguerreotypes a generation earlier. It is difficult to know if this idyllic moment in a rose garden was captured in California (after Genthe rebuilt his studio) or in New York, where he moved in 1911.
Genthe's fame as an Autochrome artist rests in no small part on the survival of 500 examples of his color images, acquired after his death by the Library of Congress. Gathering Roses and a nearly-identical image in another private collection are indicative of the studied composition and elegant presentation that a wealthy client or celebrity might expect from a photographer of Genthe's renown.
The fact that two nearly-identical images are known from this sitting (the only difference is a slight shift in the child's position) also reveals that Genthe chose to deliver multiple originals rather than make copies of a single exposure. Although it was feasible, in theory, for a single Autochrome to be duplicated onto other Autochrome plates, examples of that practice have not come to light. So far as we know, every Autochrome is unique.