The Carl Simon's Collection of hand-colored glass slides

The exhibition consists of 53 digital reproductions of hand-colored glass slides with travel images (America, Europe, North Africa, China, Japan, India...) of the early 1900s coming from the collection of Carl Simon, rediscovered in the 2011 in Dusseldorf and preserved by the German agency United Archives. The photos were shown in German cinemas with the intention of allowing those who could not travel, because they had no resources, to be able to see the wide world - "An incredible journey", lived without leaving their cities. Carl Simon's archive is a treasure that has been hidden for 60 years. In 2011 it was rediscovered in the room of an old warehouse in the Unterbilk district of Dusseldorf: about 23,000 glass slides, most of them hand-colored, perfectly preserved in 200 wooden boxes, 2 original projectors, equipment and numerous writings used during the public screenings.


Carl Simon (1873 - 1952) began to deal with photography first collaborating with the German company Liesegang and then founding his own company, Lichtbild-Anstalt Carl Simon & Co., which provided services to the nascent photography industry. Soon he began to collect hand-painted glass slides. He had a project in mind: to show the wonders of the world to the general public, to those who could not travel and be turists. He therefore sets up a show - composed of photo projections, music and a recited text - that he brings around for German cinemas. When he dies, his son Heinz continues the family tradition until the mass distribution of television sets in the late 1960s. The images, admirably hand-painted by the artists-artisans of the time, take the public on a journey through Europe (Germany, Italy, France, Holland, etc.), America (USA and Brazil), North Africa (Egypt, Morocco), Extreme East (China, Japan), Tibet and India.

Painting photos by hand is an art that begins with the story of photography itself.


Reproducing reality only in black and white is in fact immediately experienced as a limit, rather than as a new opportunity for artistic expression. But waiting for the success of the researchers, who try in vain to invent a technique to reproduce the colors (preferably economic one), to overcome the lack, the producers of images turn to artists and artisans, who respond promptly to the new need putting their know-how at the service of the new medium. In this way a new form of art is developed, a daughter of modern times, capable of achieving surprising artistic results, but little studied by critics and even less known by the general public: that of the hand coloring of images on paper or glass plate. A form of art that finds a discreet application with photo retouching to portraits at the beginning. Which is subsequently used explicitly and above all in travel, reportage, erotic and pornography images. And that finally is lost at the end of the 1930s with the spread of the first color films and above all because of the changed tastes of the public.


Curated by:

Alessandro Luigi Perna

A production of:

Eff&Ci - Facciamo Cose (We Do Things)


Pictures of:

Carl Simon Collection / United Archives / AGF

background photo of the page © United Archives / A.G.F.