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The remarkable vision of 'An American Odyssey'

The pictures in “An American Odyssey: Photos From the Detroit Photographic Company 1888-1924” (Taschen, 600pp, $200) are said to be the earliest color photographs of America. Created with a complex Swiss process called Photochrom that combined photos and lithography, the images were easy to reproduce. Many became early colorized photo postcards, illustrating tourist destinations and the oddities of urban life.

Yet some of the best photographs in this collection, blown up to 18-by-24-inch spreads (with a few fold-out panoramas) are vast landscapes: a mule train descending into the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, cattle on the plains, the river curving through the Delaware Gap.

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Up close, the process tends to smudge detail; some black-and-white photos from glass negatives are included, providing clear contrast of how they looked before being tinted. But all is forgiven for the color shots of San Francisco before the 1906 quake, and the sense, at the end of the book, of having traveled the country in another, invisible time.

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