Art Gallery of Alberta

Hugo Viewegar’s Autochrome | AGA Permanent Collection

Hugo Viewegar’s Autochrome | AGA Permanent Collection

Have you been following our behind the scenes look at a special work in AGA’s collection for #MuseumWeek?

Here’s some more information about the photographer, Hugo Viewegar, and the rare photographic process he used to make the artwork featured today.

Hugo Viewegar moved from Leipzig, Germany to Edmonton, where he opened a photography shop in 1913. This image of two of his children, Irma and Hem, 1914, was created using a rare, early colour photography technique called an autochrome. Although very popular in Paris, very few North American photographers of Viewegar’s time knew of the process.

Before moving to Canada, the photographer studied in France with the Lumière brothers. Auguste and Louis Lumière are best known for inventing the Cinématographe, which they used to make the first motion picture. They also invented the autochrome process, which they taught to Viewegar.

An autochrome is made of a very common organic material you don’t normally associate with photography: potato starch. The photographic process starts with applying
microscopic grains of starch dyed blue, green and red over the surface of a glass plate. The surface is then layered with a wash of photosensitive emulsion. With this preparation, the plate can be exposed to light, and after a long exposure, a semi-transparent image will emerge. As a result, light needs to shine through the image to become visible.

In Irma and Hem, you can see that the image of the little girl is much clearer and the little boy’s image is a bit faint and fuzzy. Given that a long exposure time is required to create an autochrome, it is likely that Viewegar’s daughter sat more still, and for a longer period.


Hugo Viewegar
Irma and Hem, 1914
Art Gallery of Alberta Collection, gift of the Erikson family