Dream Pictures: hand-tinted glass travelogue slides by Branson DeCou
April 14, 2012 3:32 AM   Subscribe

Moscow of 1931 is a collection of hand-tinted lantern slides by Branson DeCou, an American photographer and travelogue lecturer who traveled the world for 30 years before his death in 1941. You can view more of the DeCou corpus online at the Branson Decou Archive at the University of California, Santa Cruz where they've been attempting to sort, preserve, identify and digitize 10,000 DeCou slides received in 1971, a gift referred to the university chancellor by photographer Ansel Adams.

Available online so far are images of Italy, Germany, and California (though the carousel app on this page also includes photographs from other locations, and loads different images when you refresh the page; click on individual images to view).

Like many university/library/museum digital collections, these can be a bit fiddly to navigate and view, so if you'd like to simply and easily scroll some pages of pretty images, this Russian language site has 13 pages of DeCou images from various locations.
posted by taz (16 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
About the photographer himself, tantalizingly little information seems to be available aside from this: Photographer and travelogue lecturer Branson DeCou journeyed the world for thirty years before his death in 1941 at the relatively young age of 49. He was born October 20, 1892, in Philadelphia, a city with a long history of photographic invention, from the pioneer Langenheim brothers to the work of Thomas Eakins.

They do manage to note, however, that his widow, Elsie DeCou, was "irascible and eccentric."
posted by taz at 3:36 AM on April 14, 2012

ah, okay. Here is the expanded biography. He and his wife apparently did support themselves and their travels with the travelogue lectures, which is one thing I was curious about: He called his shows "Dream Pictures" and advertised them as a "fascinating new form of entertainment." His promotional brochures exclaimed "with the aid of the dissolving shutter and double stereopticon exquisitely colored slides are projected perfectly synchronized to the music of the masters reproduced on the Victrola, the combination of the two inspiring emotions." DeCou was available for single engagements on selected subjects such as "Jungle Bound Angkor" or he could be booked for a complete series given in the form of a continuous trip "Around the Southern Hemisphere: South Africa, South America, Australia, Tasmania, and the South Sea Islands."
posted by taz at 3:54 AM on April 14, 2012

These are really great Taz. It's amazing, and shallow, how much seeing this stuff in colour contemporises it for me. Makes me hungry for colour pictures from the whole spectrum of human history.
posted by smoke at 4:38 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Does anyone know what it says under the Nazi Donald Duck Statue? Great post!
posted by Renoroc at 5:17 AM on April 14, 2012

What the heck is that round thing on the rooftop? Looks vaguely like a satellite or microwave dish, though obviously such a thing didn't exist back then... so maybe a sign?
posted by crapmatic at 6:36 AM on April 14, 2012

They had Instragram in Soviet Russia? Impressive!
posted by stargell at 6:41 AM on April 14, 2012

Man, those ink colors are beautiful---looks like the whole thing was painted with watercolor. The loveliness is somehow made more intense, or just framed weirdly, by the knowledge of just how bad things were in Moscow in 1931. I keep wondering if all the public squares are so empty because everyone is either at work or at home, cringing in fear.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:01 AM on April 14, 2012

double scoop mint chocolate chip ice cream with whipped cream and sprinkles, reminding us that photoshop is not the ne plus ultra.... thx
posted by wallstreet1929 at 7:48 AM on April 14, 2012

I love the cafeteria/kitchen building in the last photo. Stylistically, it could have been built in the last 5 years.
posted by haykinson at 7:58 AM on April 14, 2012

I love seeing how people dressed and hung-out. But what the heck was that?
posted by benito.strauss at 8:49 AM on April 14, 2012

Does anyone know what it says under the Nazi Donald Duck Statue? Great post!

The comments on the site say:

"This is not Nazi but Mannerheim, leader of Finland. Finns used swastika as their symbol too. Finland broke away off Russia during October Revolution and this statue says that whoever want to go back under Moscow rule will be hanged."


"It says "who will shout 'long live Moscow' will be hanged""
posted by jedicus at 9:38 AM on April 14, 2012

Incredible photos, great post, taz
posted by growabrain at 11:02 AM on April 14, 2012

I love the cafeteria/kitchen building in the last photo. Stylistically, it could have been built in the last 5 years.

Now that you mention it, buildings have been going up all over my city that look like the last two photos.
posted by telstar at 4:18 PM on April 14, 2012

I love how modern some of the buildings looked. I would have mistaken them for buildings from the 50s, not the 30s. I guess this was before the Soviets gave up on the whole "palaces of the people" idea and just built endless concrete apartment blocks.
posted by Popular Ethics at 10:06 PM on April 15, 2012

(to echo telstar)
posted by Popular Ethics at 10:07 PM on April 15, 2012

Okay, USCS actually has at least some photos available for viewing that aren't linked as collections. For example, here is a search for "United Kingdom," which it seems they are working on now.

This photo could be a real-life Thomas Kinkade bucolic vignette if a) there was no person in the doorway, and b) if the windows looked like there was a fire raging inside the house.
posted by taz at 12:28 AM on April 16, 2012

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