Hand-Painted Colored Slides

From the very beginning Holmes used a slide projector to show his photographs; his lectures were built around the images and the show progressed more or less as the original expedition had traveled. In the 1890's there were no commercially available color imaging photographic films, so the slides were black-and-white positive images printed on glass. To get colors you could paint directly on the glass.

If you do a websearch on "magic lantern slides" you can find plenty of information about how this was done. There's even a nice site showing a kit you could buy to do them yourself.

Of course, when you're a professional lecturer, you need absolutely the best quality you can find. Holmes had his first pictures of Japan painted by Japanese artists in Yokohama. If he didn't want to send his slides to Japan for painting, he needed to find other artists who were comfortable with such detailed work (including fine lines painted with a single-bristle brush).

One of his artists was Helen Esther Stevenson of Chicago (another member, and sometime president, of the Chicago Camera Club where Holmes first presented his work). She was credited with the coloring on, for example, the slides used during the 1902 lecture series. According to her great-grandson, Jeff Bockman, she worked for Holmes for many years until her death in 1914, accompanying him on some trips and getting into some interesting and dangerous places. [Source: Private communication. We hope to be able to recount some of her adventures here.]

Holmes continued to used painted slides as a major part of his lectures until the end of the 1930's, at that point changing over to color movie film. In the 1950's he donated almost all of his slide archive (nearly 18,000 slides) to UCLA, where most of them can still be found. A number of the slides were borrowed back by BHI in the 1970's and never returned; their wherabouts is unknown. Holmes kept back some of his most famous slides, and BHI continued to make, license, and sell photographic image transfers after his death. Some of these transfer images were used in Genoa Caldwell's two books, and for the Japanese exhibitions put on by Shaun Dale.


Typical slide from the UCLA archive. The bright spot on the left is a lighting artifact. Photograph by Michael Ward.

Some of the Burton Holmes Travelogues painted glass slides, in their original trays at the archive at UCLA. Photograph by Michael Ward.

Update history: This page created 23 November 2004; last update 24 October 2007.