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Color Photography - Photographic Processes Series - Chapter 11 of 12

Color photography evolved from black and white through dye sensitizing. Early color images were made by projecting three different colored images. James Clerk Maxwell's color wheel demonstrated additive color mixing. The Lumière brothers invented the autochrome, the first public color process. Chromogenic color photography, invented in the 1930s, became the dominant process in the 20th century.

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Video transcript

When color photography comes out people think of it as being very artificial at first. Serious, sincere, authentic images were in black and white. After WWII film for making color prints became available. People’s associations with photography began to transform into color. All silver based photographic processes start off as blue sensitive. Blue and white photograph as the same value. When you look at 19th century landscape photographs, and you wonder why didn’t have any clouds in those days? It’s because the white of the sky and the blue of the sky photograph as the same value. In order to have color film, you must have black and white film that will record all colors. The sensitizing of emulsions was actually done by adding dyes to the liquid emulsion. It is called dye sensitizing. Frederic Ives was instrumental in understanding that black and white film had to be dye sensitized in order to get a record from which you could make color images. It’s really complicated. One of the earliest ways to make a color photograph was to make three negatives of the same scene. From the negatives, make a lantern slide. Now a lantern slide is a positive transparency, a slide. The positive slides were then put into three different projectors. The filter that was used to take that original negative was placed in front of the projector. When you projected these three different colored images upon each other it produced a full color image. Another way of doing an additive color plate is by having a transparency that is made up of either dots or lines, using the red, the violet and the green color. The dots that do the color mixing, they are so fine that you don’t see them as dots. They are so close to each other they do their color mixing virtually, by your eye. In England, James Clerk Maxwell experiments with the perception of color in the 1850’s. He came up with an interesting way to demonstrate additive color mixing. This is Maxwell’s color wheel. It’s an additive color mixing machine. If you look at your iPhone with a loupe, or your television screen, or your computer screen with a loupe, if you get in really close, you will see the same red, violet and green dots or lines. The autochrome was invented by Auguste and Louis Lumière. The first color process that could be manufactured and made available to the public. The Lumière brothers are best known for their invention of the motion picture camera. The autochrome is, like the daguerreotype, a process that produces a single, positive image. A one of a kind image. However, it is a transparency. You have to view it through transmitted light. The autochrome, the Joly plate, these early additive screen plates enabled people to take a picture in their camera with a single plate. That allowed the finished product to be something you hold in your hand hold up to a window, and see a full color image. The other way of making a color photograph is by the subtractive method. Subtractive color processes are done by using magenta, yellow and cyan images, which are layered on top of each other. Chromogenic color photography was invented in the 1930’s. The process that really ushered in this entire movement of color was the Kodachrome process. It really begins with the work of Mannes and Godowski at the Kodak research labs. Chromogenic color prints are made with a gelatin emulsion. It’s based on silver. And there are many layers. When the film or the paper is being developed, each layer releases the dye that it needs on the cyan, yellow or magenta layer. During the processing the silver is actually removed, leaving only the color behind. You end up with a full color picture that is made with light going into the paper or onto the film, simultaneously. It is rocket science. The chromogenic color process becomes the predominant process in the twentieth century, and it is still being used today. But those wheels are starting to slow down Once chromogenic color is gone, we will never, ever, see it happen again. It requires incredible infrastructure. Once it’s gone, it is gone.