National Media Museum blog

We explore the science, technology and art of the still and moving image, and its impact on our lives.

Autochromes, aviation and around the world adventures, all in the name of International Women’s Day 2013

Helen Messinger Murdoch (1862 – 1956) was a remarkable woman – one of the earliest colour photographers and one of the first female aviators.

Self portrait with American flag, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

Self portrait with American flag, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

An American, the daughter of an artist, Murdoch took up photography in the late 1890s. She was a competent monochrome photographer but following the introduction of the Lumiere Autochrome process for colour photography in 1907 Murdoch concentrated almost exclusively on colour photography.

Miss Sallie Currier, Houlgate, Normandy, 1912, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

Miss Sallie Currier, Houlgate, Normandy, 1912, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

Murdoch joined The Royal Photographic Society in 1911, becoming a fellow of the society the following year. A frequent visitor to Europe she showed her work at a number of venues, including the Wigmore Street Gallery and the Halcyon Women’s Club. In October 1913 she gave a talk illustrated with her lantern slides to a packed meeting of the Royal Photographic Society.

Woman and child, Japan, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

Woman and child, Japan, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

Later that year, aged 51, Murdoch decided to embark on a round the world tour – the first woman photographer to undertake such a challenging journey. She travelled through France to Egypt and then on to Palestine, India, Burma, Ceylon, Hong Kong, China, Japan, the Philippines, Hawaii, Honolulu, San Francisco, San Diego and overland to Boston, arriving home in 1915.

Mrs. Smith and Daughter, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

Mrs. Smith and Daughter, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

The First World War put a stop to her globetrotting but Murdoch hadn’t lost her appetite for adventure, deciding to take flying lessons. She continued to take photographs and in 1934, she was made an Honorary Fellow of The RPS.

Kaiosawa, Maids at Miss Tracys, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

Kaiosawa, Maids at Miss Tracys, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

The Royal Photographic Society Collection held here has about 600 autochromes and lantern slides by Helen Messinger Murdoch, mostly taken during her round the world trip. For this blog post, we have selected some of her photographs of women around the world.

Woman standing by a tree, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

Woman standing by a tree, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

Portrait of a woman in a pink dress, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

Portrait of a woman in a pink dress, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

Santa Barbara Pupil Weaving Rug c.1915, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

Santa Barbara Pupil Weaving Rug c.1915, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

Portrait Bombay, c.1914, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

Portrait Bombay, c.1914, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

Miss Stuart, Santa Barbara, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

Miss Stuart, Santa Barbara, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

Miss Muriel Cadell, London, England, 1913, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

Miss Muriel Cadell, London, England, 1913, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

Miss May Tracy, Japan, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

Miss May Tracy, Japan, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

Madaline Bradbury and "Chiketa", Santa Barbara, c. 1915, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

Madaline Bradbury and “Chiketa”, Santa Barbara, c. 1915, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

Hotel proprieter, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

Hotel proprieter, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

Brides Costume, Darjeeling, c.1914, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

Brides Costume, Darjeeling, c.1914, Helen Messinger Murdoch, The Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum / SSPL

Further Reading and Interesting Links

  • www.luminous-lint.com/app/photographer/Helen_Messinger__Murdoch – A more extensive biography, written by Pam Roberts, former curator of the RPS Collection
  • http://www.ssplprints.com/category/1194/photography/helen-messenger-murdoch – A selection of Murdoch’s autochromes in the Science and Society Picture Library
  • The British Journal of Photography (Colour Photography Supplement), October 2 1914, p.40 – ‘Colour Photography in Ceylon’ – A report on Murdoch’s work in Colombo.
  • The Journal of the Photographic Society of India, Vol XXIX, No 318, June 1914, pp.182-183 – An account of a lecture given by Murdoch in Calcutta to members of the Indian Photographic Society.
  • The Photographic Journal, November 1913, pp. 266-268. A report on Murdoch’s lantern slide presentation to members of The Royal Photographic Society.

About Colin Harding

I am Curator of Photographic Technology at the National Media Museum. As well as looking after the camera collection I have curated many special exhibitions over the years.

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