Snake Charmers and Bazaars

Sunday October 08, 2017 Written by Jasmine


Greetings from Tunisia… The year? 1899. These vivid postcards were produced using the photocrom technique, a photographic process invented by a Swiss printer back in the 1880s. A bazaar's thoroughfare is captured with light streaming in from cracks in the roof; a snake charmer entertains locals in backstreets; women sit cross-legged on the footpath selling grains and spices; and men gather, some donning turbans and others, top hats. It’s a striking juxtaposition of French and North African cultures, with tiny details of day-to-day life captured through a rare social realist lens.  


Photocrom is considered to be half-photography and half-printing. It was a time-consuming process that involved the coating of a lithographic limestone tablet with a light–sensitive solution. The tablet was exposed to sunlight under a photo negative for many hours and then hardened to match the tones of the negative. This produced a lithographic image on the tablet. The process was then repeated to achieve the colours and image the photographer desired.

tunisia 1

It all seems like a breathtaking amount of work… which may explain why the last photocrom printer closed in 1970. They sure don’t make postcards like this any more.

Peruse more from the 1899 series here.