Genius Innovators

I See Trees of Green; Red Roses, Too

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Once the process of taking photos started to be ironed out, people wanted to do more than stare at Oreo’s and wanted to see in color. Color photography actually stretches back to the mid-1800s. The first permanent color photograph was taken in 1861 by taking three separate black and white photos through red, green and blue filters, respectively. Then color would be added or subtracted, depending on the method used.

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To add color back in, you could project a transparent print of the photo through a similar colored filter and superimpose each onto the other. To get the color image on paper, you would use carbon prints — prints using a colored gelatin rather than a silver solution — of each of the primary colors and layering them to wind up with a full color image. This last method was used extensively by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii to produce photos like the one to the left, which was made in 1915.

The major technological problem with color photography in this method was that the plates were not very sensitive to various colors. It wasn’t until Hermann Vogel discovered a way to make the emulsions used on photographic plates more color sensitive that color photography could be done reliably and in a reasonable time. Improvements from this point on led directly to Autochrome.

Commercial success is important in photography. Without it, materials and processes remain very expensive and out of the reach of most artists, who are usually starving. In 1907, the Lumière brothers found a way to include a color filter mosaic on photographic plates. They called it Autochrome. The mosaic was near-microscopic so that when the image was developed the human eye could not see the individual colored points. This system worked well enough and was cost effective enough that it actually remained in use into the 1950s.

In 1889, the first plastic film was created. This film was highly flammable and had horrible photographic properties. However, by the time the brothers Lumière had created the Autochrome process film was starting to become a better medium for capturing images. By 1935, George Eastman (remember him?) and his scientists at Eastman Kodak created Kodachrome, the first modern color film. It used a multilayer emulsion on the film. A special processing method was used to produce an image in full color. Without the special processing method, you would just have three black and white images imposed on each other.

A year layer, Agfa came out with their Neu line of film which incorporated the color couplers used in the Kodachrome process right into the film. This allowed processing to be greatly simplified. The system Agfa used is the basis for all color film used today.

The last major development of film photography came in 1963 when Polaroid came out with a color version of their instant film. The Polaroid instant film would be the company’s bread and butter until the digital photography revolution. This revolution led to Polaroid going through a bankruptcy in 2001 and ending production of instant film in 2009. It can also be blamed for the downfall of Kodak, which had 90% of the film market of the US in 1976.

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