The Frank Lauder Autochromes Collection consists of 1,402 rare color images of homes, gardens, and landmarks in the Kansas City metropolitan area, captured in the 1930s and early 1940s.
The glass plates were created using an early color photographic process called the autochrome. The process was introduced in 1907 by Auguste and Louis Lumière, brothers who were French filmmakers.
Church of Our Lady of Sorrows (October 3, 1933) by Lauder, FrankKansas City Public Library
The technique involved a layer of potato starch grains (dyed violet, green, and red-orange) that were spread on a glass plate with a light-sensitive silver bromide solution. Conveniently, the color autochrome plates could be used in place of standard black-and-white plates used in cameras of the era.
Clumping of individual starch grains gave autochromes their unique pastel appearance. Under proper conditions, the colors captured by autochromes can be vivid, and the technique remained popular for some 30 years. Shown here is a portion of Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza in 1932.
The Kansas City autochrome collection was created by an amateur photographer named Frank Lauder, who was an accountant and auditor by trade. He worked for the Long-Bell Lumber Company between World War I and the late 1920s. Lauder is depicted in this 1934 image.
Staircase and Grand Hall of R. A. Long by Lauder, FrankKansas City Public Library
After losing his job at the lumber company, Lauder supported himself through photography and lecturing in the 1930s. He traveled around Kansas City and documented its notable residences and gardens with the color photography, and he used the images to illustrate his lectures to local garden clubs.
Nelson Gallery of Art (May 18, 1933) by Lauder, FrankKansas City Public Library
A portion of Lauder’s Autochromes document Kansas City’s notable buildings. Shown here is the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Nelson Gallery of Art from the University of Kansas City (October 1933) by Lauder, FrankKansas City Public Library
Another autochrome of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, taken from the campus of the University of Kansas City.
Penn Valley Park and the Kansas City skyline in the background, as seen from Scout Hill.
Scout Statue in Penn Valley Park, looking north toward the Kansas City skyline, September 8, 1938.
Children in Jacob L. Loose Memorial Park Wading Pool (June 26, 1935) by Lauder, FrankKansas City Public Library
Jacob L. Loose Memorial Park Wading Pool, June 26, 1935.
Kansas City Southern Bridge in Swope Park (October 24, 1933) by Lauder, FrankKansas City Public Library
Kansas City Southern Railroad bridge in Swope Park, October 24, 1933.
West Bottoms from Kersey Coates Drive (October 18, 1932) by Lauder, FrankKansas City Public Library
St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad yards and Kansas City Live Stock Exchange Building, October 18, 1932.
The Palisades at West Terrace Park, as viewed from Kersey Coates Drive, September 25, 1933.
The Concourse Pergola (September 1933) by Lauder, FrankKansas City Public Library
The Colonnade in North Terrace Park (now Kessler Park), September 23, 1933.
Golf course at Unity Village, July 26, 1935.
Liberty Memorial, a monument that now houses the National World War I Museum, October 4, 1933.
The personal library in the residence of R. A. Long, who was co-founder of the Long-Bell Lumber Company.
House of Helen H. McDermand (June 22, 1933) by Lauder, FrankKansas City Public Library
Because autochromes were made using organic materials, they are sensitive to light and heat, can degrade, and the colors can deteriorate. Capturing high-resolution digital images of the Kansas City autochromes, without damaging the plates, required special techniques.
During the most recent digitization process, staff of the Kansas City Public Library consulted published information about autochromes. A professional DSLR camera with a macro lens was selected and mounted overhead, with a high-CRI LED light bulb beneath for backlighting. The selected bulb allowed a color temperature that closely matched daylight, without producing excessive heat that would damage the autochrome slide.
Relative to a scanner, use of a DSLR camera with LED backlighting improved the brightness, contrast, and color accuracy, allowing for exceptional digital reproductions of the original slides.
Children in the Garden of James Neal Foster and Sadie Ross Foster (June 24, 1932) by Lauder, FrankKansas City Public Library
After image capture, post-production of the images was conducted using Adobe Photoshop.
House and Tower of Leslie T. Martin (May 10, 1939) by Lauder, FrankKansas City Public Library
Edits included color, exposure, and lens corrections to accurately reproduce how the autochrome is perceived when viewed with the naked eye and a light source.
Bouquet of Yellow Water Lilies and Lake Quivira (July 1941) by Lauder, FrankKansas City Public Library
The autochrome process was eventually supplanted by the invention of Kodachrome film in 1935, by two concert musicians, Leopold Godowsky Jr. and Leopold Mannes. While working for the Kodak Company, the two Leopolds successfully developed film that would separate color in one exposure and would produce dyes in the film during development.
The Kodachrome process was far less cumbersome than the autochrome, allowed shorter exposure times, produced a sharper image, and proved popular with professional and amateur photographers alike.
Myra M. Wilson with a Rose (September 14, 1941) by Lauder, FrankKansas City Public Library
Frank Lauder’s Kansas City collection contains some 250 color slides that post-date autochrome technology.
The Frank Lauder Autochrome Collection is housed in Missouri Valley Special Collections at the Kansas City Public Library. The collection was acquired circa 1952 and accessioned as collection no. P22.
The collection is available online in its entirety on the Pendergast Years website.