04 February 2009
The invention: The first commercially successful process in which a single exposure in a regular camera produced a color image. The people behind the invention: Louis Lumière (1864-1948), a French inventor and scientist Auguste Lumière (1862-1954), an inventor, physician, physicist, chemist, and botanist Alphonse Seyewetz, a skilled scientist and assistant of the Lumière brothers Adding Color In 1882, Antoine Lumière, painter, pioneer photographer, and father of Auguste and Louis, founded a factory to manufacture photographic gelatin dry-plates. After the Lumière brothers took over the factory’s management, they expanded production to include roll film and printing papers in 1887 and also carried out joint research that led to fundamental discoveries and improvements in photographic development and other aspects of photographic chemistry. While recording and reproducing the actual colors of a subject was not possible at the time of photography’s inception (about 1822), the first practical photographic process, the daguerreotype, was able to render both striking detail and good tonal quality. Thus, the desire to produce full-color images, or some approximation to realistic color, occupied the minds of many photographers and inventors, including Louis and Auguste Lumière, throughout the nineteenth century. As researchers set out to reproduce the colors of nature, the first process that met with any practical success was based on the additive color theory expounded by the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell in 1861. He believed that any color can be created by adding together red, green, and blue light in certain proportions. Maxwell, in his experiments, had taken three negatives through screens or filters of these additive primary colors. He then took slides made from these negatives and projected the slides through the same filters onto a screen so that their images were superimposed. As a result, he found that it was possible to reproduce the exact colors as well as the form of an object. Unfortunately, since colors could not be printed in their tonal relationships on paper before the end of the nineteenth century,Maxwell’s experiment was unsuccessful. Although Frederick E. Ives of Philadelphia, in 1892, optically united three transparencies so that they could be viewed in proper alignment by looking through a peephole, viewing the transparencies was still not as simple as looking at a black-and-white photograph. The Autochrome Plate The first practical method of making a single photograph that could be viewed without any apparatus was devised by John Joly of Dublin in 1893. Instead of taking three separate pictures through three colored filters, he took one negative through one filter minutely checkered with microscopic areas colored red, green, and blue. The filter and the plate were exactly the same size and were placed in contact with each other in the camera. After the plate was developed, a transparency was made, and the filter was permanently attached to it. The black-and-white areas of the picture allowed more or less light to shine through the filters; if viewed froma proper distance, the colored lights blended to form the various colors of nature. In sum, the potential principles of additive color and other methods and their potential applications in photography had been discovered and even experimentally demonstrated by 1880. Yet a practical process of color photography utilizing these principles could not be produced until a truly panchromatic emulsion was available, since making a color print required being able to record the primary colors of the light cast by the subject. Louis and Auguste Lumière, along with their research associate Alphonse Seyewetz, succeeded in creating a single-plate process based on this method in 1903. It was introduced commercially as the autochrome plate in 1907 and was soon in use throughout the world. This process is one of many that take advantage of the limited resolving power of the eye. Grains or dots too small to be recognized as separate units are accepted in their entirety and, to the sense of vision, appear as tones and continuous color.Impact While the autochrome plate remained one of the most popular color processes until the 1930’s, soon this process was superseded by subtractive color processes. Leopold Mannes and Leopold Godowsky, both musicians and amateur photographic researchers who eventually joined forces with Eastman Kodak research scientists, did the most to perfect the Lumière brothers’ advances in making color photography practical. Their collaboration led to the introduction in 1935 of Kodachrome, a subtractive process in which a single sheet of film is coated with three layers of emulsion, each sensitive to one primary color. A single exposure produces a color image. Color photography is now commonplace. The amateur market is enormous, and the snapshot is almost always taken in color. Commercial and publishing markets use color extensively. Even photography as an art form, which was done in black and white through most of its history, has turned increasingly to color.