Paris Color Images

Paris as seen from the church of Saint Gervais.

These colored photos by Jules Gervais-Courtellemont will take you back through time to see how Paris looked in 1923. The vivid images are produced using the autochrome technique in which the plates are covered in microscopic red, green and blue colored potato starch grains (about four million per square inch).

When the photograph is taken, light passes through these color filters to the photographic emulsion. The plate is processed to produce positive transparency. Light, passing through the colored starch grains, combines to recreate a full-color image of the original subject.

Born in 1863 outside Paris, Jules Gervais-Courtellemont spent twenty years in Algeria where he developed a passion for the pre-colonial Orient and devoted most of his professional career in search of the exotic.

In 1894 he converted to Islam prior to making a pilgrimage to Mecca. After experiments with monochrome photography, he adopted the Lumière brothers’ Autochrome system after it went on sale in June 1907. In 1911, Courtellemont opened the “Palais de l’autochromie” at 167 rue Montmartre in Paris, which comprised an exhibition hall, studio, laboratory, and lecture hall with a seating capacity of 250. It was in this hall that Courtellemont would project his autochromes of the Orient.

With the outbreak of World War I, Courtellemont returned to his home province to record the war. He continued to show his photographs of the war at the “Palais”, particularly the Marne battlefields. After the war, Courtellemont began working for an American publication. He eventually became a photographer for National Geographic.

Paris during the 1920s was an enigmatic and frivolous place. The people were changing, norms were being challenged and sexualities were becoming more present in the social spectrum.

Stereotypically, the 20s were a place in history where people, especially the youth, began to break out of their societally-decided places and experiment with how they fit in with the world.

Cars appeared on the roads; picture houses opened, projecting the world’s first silent movies; radios appeared in households; jazz flourished, and musical halls – where icons like Josephine Baker and Maurice Chevalier launched their careers – became the places to see and be seen in.

Paris was at the heart of it all, not only in terms of fashion and entertainment but in the domains of decorative art and architecture, as movers and thinkers drew inspiration from cubism, modernism, and neoclassicism to create the ‘total’ style that came to be known as art deco.

Paris Color Images

A blind alley in old Paris.

Paris Color Images

The Jardin des Tuileries.

Paris Color Images

A flower market near the Chatelet.

Paris Color Images

The Palais Garnier opera house.

Paris Color Images

Horses and workers on a riverbank.

Paris Color Images

Formal gardens and ponds.

Paris Color Images

The church of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont.

Paris Color Images

Paris in 1923.

Paris Color Images

Men on the Île de la Cité.

Paris Color Images

A view through trees across the Seine.

Paris Color Images

The gardens of the Senate building.

Paris Color Images

The hotel of Madame de Lamballe, a friend of Marie-Antoinette.

Paris Color Images

The Moulin Rouge nightclub at Montmarte.

Paris Color Images

A colonnade and lake in a garden.

Paris Color Images

The Moulin de la Galette, or Mill of the Cake, at Montmartre.

Paris Color Images

A view across the Seine.

Paris Color Images

The church of Saint Germaine l’Auxerrois.

Paris Color Images

The cathedral of Notre Dame.

Paris Color Images

The street of Saint Julian the Poor in old Paris.

Paris Color Images

A pathway in the gardens of a large estate.

Paris Color Images

Men stand beside crafts for sale near the cathedral of Notre Dame.

Paris Color Images

The Grand Palais des Champs-Élysées.

Paris Color Images

A worker naps next to carts of rubble.

Paris Color Images

The Trocadero gardens and the Eiffel Tower.

Paris Color Images

A view down the street to the Panthéon.

Paris Color Images

A street scene outside a butcher’s shop.

Paris Color Images

The Museum of the Decorative Arts in the Tuileries.

Paris Color Images

The flower market on the Quai aux Flaers.

Paris Color Images

The Porte Saint-Denis.

Paris Color Images

Twilight on the Seine.

(Photo credit: Jules Gervais-Courtellemont / National Geographic Creative/ Corbis).