The Sanger Shepherd Process

We’re making a start on cleaning, digitizing and recording a beautiful cabinet of lantern slides which used to form part of the Ashmolean Lantern Slide Lending Library. It’s a big job, and one we couldn’t do without the help of our new student volunteers – Bridget, Amy, Alice and Ed.

Almost as soon as he had started cleaning a set of slides, Ed came across this and drew it to our attention:

box 249 sanger shepherd005

It’s a colour image of a fresco from the famous Bronze Age site at Knossos in Crete, excavated by Sir Arthur Evans from 1900 onwards. Colour images are a rarity in our lantern slide collection, not least because it was difficult and expensive to achieve a colour image before the introduction of Kodachrome in 1935. It is probable that the wealthy Evans was responsible for commissioning this expensive image. The colour slide was created using the Sanger Shepherd method. Red, yellow and blue filters were used and the results amalgamated to create the final colour. Sanger Shepherd and Company Ltd were active from 1900 to 1927, so Evans was using cutting-edge technology.

The next slide in the slide box shows some of the processes for creating the right mix of colours, with an outline drawing of the same fresco indicating how the colour filters should be set – an interesting find for historians of photography:

box 249 sanger shepherd003

The image itself, known as ‘The Captain of the Blacks’, is highly contentious. When Sir Arthur Evans began excavations at Knossos he was heavily influenced by his reading of Classical authors in his interpretation of the site and its frescoes. When he came across this fresco, it was damaged. The lead runner has survived, but only the legs of two following runners and a tiny part of the back of the head of the second runner were visible. This was enough for Evans to construct a narrative of African enlistment in Minoan armies, as he argued in his publication of the site (Evans 1926, p756).

We’ve found a dozen more Sanger Shepherd colour images in this box. Who knows what we will find as we keep going through the collection?


Evans, A. 1926. The palace of Minos : a comparative account of the successive stages of the early Cretan civilization as illustrated by the discoveries at Knossos vol II (London, Macmillan)

About Archaeology Archives Administrator

Researchers in the archives of the Institute of Archaeology, University of Oxford. Home of the Historic Environment Image Resource. Passionate about old photographs and fresh biscuits.
This entry was posted in Archives Progress, Lantern Slides, Photography, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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