These days, we pretty much take the fact that we get around in vehicles for granted. We also take for granted the fact that we can take photographs any second we want, and as many as we want. Both of these were not a given not so long ago, and it’s important to remember how much we’ve progressed as a society. So what did the first color photograph of a vehicle look like?
Well, here it is in all of its glory. The photo, called “During The Race,” is from the year 1906 and shows a young girl sitting in a 1902 Renault car. So how did this photo come to be?
The very first commercial use of color photographs was called Autochrome Lumière. Yes, the very same Lumière as the two Lumière brothers who had one of the earliest motion picture cameras. What they ended up getting quite wrong is their prediction of “the cinema is an invention without any future.” They ended up abandoning the idea of cinema and pursuing color photos, which led them to develop the Autochrome Lumière.
The Autochrome Lumière used a plate that was coated with a random array of potato starch particles colored either red-orange, blue-violet, or green. These are pretty similar to the cyan, magenta, and yellow of additive color printing. The potato starch color filter was then coated on a glass plate which would work as a filter for the silver halide plate placed behind it.
The brothers patented the technique in 1903, and took it to market in 1907. That was the main way to take color photos up until the 1930’s. So how is it possible that the car photo was taken in 1906?
Well, the answer lies in the fact that the girl in the photo is Suzanne Lumière, Louis Lumière’s daughter. The Renault is his car, and the plain fact of the matter was that he was the only person on earth at the time who was able to take a color photo of a car.
The incredible photo is also the first color photograph of a parking lot, no matter how temporary it is (it is some grass, after all). There are also several other cars in the background, which helps us envision how things were back then.
While it is possible the Louis took some color photos that included cars before this one, for now this remains the earliest recorded photo of a car we’ve ever seen. Imagine how the Lumière brothers would react to all of the photos people post of their cars on social media.