His time in Algiers

The colours of Algiers illuminate his work

In 1884, Louis Ducos du Hauron joined his brother who had just been appointed president of the Court of Assizes of Algiers. He spent 12 years there at 68 rue de Rovigo.

« It’s a dungeon overlooking the whole beach, Louis wrote. From our windows we hover over the sea and over huge green tracts of land. It’s delightful. »

This time in Algiers is known thanks to the correspondence that Louis and Alcide had with Georges Tholin,the permanent secretary of the Academic Society of Agen.

As soon as he arrived, Louis went out into Algiers and took pictures of the city and its suburbs. Thus, he took the very first colour pictures of Algiers as he had done in Agen.

He acquired a collotype press and learnt on his own how to use it. Racing about to take pictures, he made his plates and his prints. So he made about twenty (at least as far as we know) trios of negatives that produced about twenty prints for each of the trios, sold for the average price of 10 Francs. Obviously not the kind of money to enable him to amortize his investment. To address the problem, he taught the piano at the Sacré-Cœur of Algiers and for a time gave lessons to a few bourgeois families of Algiers. Then « To devote himself entirely to his work, he gave up his job as piano teacher at the Sacré-Cœur of Algiers and in various families »

On 4th June 1892 he sent a collotype print to the French Society of Photography. In a companion letter, he underlined his disappointment because photographers considered his discovery with little enthusiasm.


Louis Ducos du Hauron also tried to build a triple darkroom, but his difficulties were up to his expectations and he lodged a complaint against the joiner who made it : « Alas, he wrote to the Algiers prosecutor, this object is a sham. This device is an illusion. You need two men or a cart to carry it from a district to another »

Therefore, he reverted to the conventional small-size darkroom and had to enlarge his prints. He sold his pictures at the average price of 10 Francs, but it was neither enough to cover the costs of his research nor to amortize his investments for he was still seeking to undertake his big project of colour printing.

Guy Devaux reported that the famous pharmacist and photographer Léopold Mathet met Louis Ducos du Hauron in Algiers and wrote : « How fired up he was when I heard him talk about his various inventions, colour prints, anaglyphs, reseau-plate that he envisioned».

He sent his experimental pictures to Toulouse, to the collotype workshop of André Quinsac for the purpose of industrialising his processes. In 1882 Louis Ducos du Hauron decided to embark on the setting up of a three-colour printer in the « pink city ». Indeed André Quinsac, a black and white collotype specialist lived in Toulouse. He persuaded him to experiment collotype printing, i.e. colour printing. In this approach he was supported by a group of Agen investors led by his friend Alexandre Jaille. This agricultural engineer had founded a drugstore in 1851. He was locally known for forming a partnership with the manufacturer Georges Thomas cofounder of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and originator of the Droguerie centrale du Sud-Ouest.

In a letter to Tholin, we learn that he requested the supervision of prints sent to Quinsac. And in accordance with his need for excellence in everything, he was somewhat demanding. So, in 1884 he didn’t go as far as remonstrating with him but he made unequivocal recommendations : « the two specimens you have just sent us are far too faulty for us to be able to hope to place such a print ». And he gave the reasons for that, directly questioning the work of the photo-engraver « I think the pictures were excellent, unfortunately they used inking that failed to overlap mechanically as occurred sometimes while I was in Toulouse. These two images are green and lack strength; the red is not distributed sufficiently quantitywise. In similar cases, Mr. Quinsac, in my presence, had found the remedy by substituting new ink for the faulty one ». To sum up, Louis Ducos du Hauron rightly refused the printing of his pictures without himself or Mr. Quinsac being present. As for poor Georges Tholin, being the representative in France of such a personality was probably not a walk in the park.

Industrial rotten luck

But Louis Ducos du Hauron was decidedly out of luck.

In 1888, while in Algiers Louis Ducos du Hauron learned about the fire that had just destroyed the collotype workshops of André Quinsac in Toulouse. Louis, still as determined, had had to face the technical difficulties involved in the development of his process before learning that his efforts had only served to fuel the fire.

In 2009,Zeynep ÇELIK, Frances TERPAK and Julia CLANCY-SMITH published. ”Walls of Algiers : Narratives of the City through Text and Image” that includes a very bright image of the port of Algiers though un fortunately a little blurry. The Archives of Lot-et-Garonne, as for them, own a beautiful colour panorama of the Kasbah as well as monochromes (cyan, magenta and yellow) of the surroundings of Algiers in that period.

Colour film

The fire in Toulouse then put a provisional end to his industrial ambitions. He resumed his work on the anaglyphs he developed in 1891 but above all and especially on a major invention, the "polyfolium", which was in fact, the colour film system later developed by the Americans with Kodak chrome and the Germans with Agfacolor.

Not only did he describe it but he proposed it to the Lumière brothers in a letter dated 19th June 1896 "Whether they like it or not, all those who, in some form or another, photomechanical and high speed print runs or amateur and slow speed print runs, are going to want to practise three-colour photographic polychromy, will inevitably be led not to make use of the awkward and cumbersome triple darkrooms proposed either by myself until very recently, or by different designers and prefer the device I conceived and patented under the name of « Polyfolium Chromodialytique » : it’s a thin stack of layers of alternating film type colour screens and of sensitive films leaving an imprint on one another, all of them being contained in the negative châssis of any darkroom. The book we’re about to publish contains the thorough description of this device. I have just experimented it thoroughly: it works perfectly, it gives me the blameless trio of the three phototypes, created, one by the blue-purple light, the second one by the green light, the third one by the orange red. For these experiments, for want of finding the three ready-to-use films commercially available, I had to content myself with Planchon films sold by your establishment; I removed the gelatin-silver bromide from two of these films and I replaced them by the transparent preparations required, leaving the third one, that of the orange red, as it was. A very moderate pressure of the livret in the châssis made the three images particularly fine. […] I now propose to entrust you with the industrial production of this polyfolium. […]

The relations he entertained in Algiers with the local photographic circles enabled him to meet A. Bouyer who ran a typographic and lithographic printer, and Alexandre Leroux, a photo-engraver. Unfortunately to this day, our investigations on these photographers have not revealed anything new.

In 1896 Louis Ducos du Hauron left Algiers to accompany his brother Alcide who then exercised his rights to retirement as a magistrate in 1904, and settled in Savigny-sur-Orge

A letter from Louis Ducos du Hauron to Georges Tholin, permanent secretary to the Academic Society of Agen

Alexandre Jaille André Quinsac Georges Tholin Alexandre Leroux Photographes algérois collotypie Léopold Mathet photocollographie