A Brief History of Photography: Part 8 – Kodachrome & Color Film

The additive screen color photography techniques, as theorized by Maxwell, and as realized in the practical sense through the Dufaycolor and Autochrome processes discussed in the previous installment of this series, failed to gain broad and lasting acceptance due to some fundamental shortcomings. Additive techniques required color filters to be somehow maintained in register both for the initial image exposure and then to view the final product. These filters introduced image-degrading artifacts in the forms of lines, crosshatches, or grain patterns. The filters also screened out a significant percentage of the light hitting the film emulsion, effectively lowering their sensitivity and use in lower light situations.

Beginning in 1869 with the published papers accompanying his patents on the subject, Louis Arthur Ducos du Hauron set forth basic concepts of using subtractive color theory in color photography. The subtractive process removes certain colors from white light while allowing other colors. The three subtractive primary colors (cyan, magenta, yellow) are the complementary colors of the three additive primary colors (red, green, blue), and in combined use as filters can generate almost any color. Continue reading “A Brief History of Photography: Part 8 – Kodachrome & Color Film”

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A Brief History of Photography: Part 7 – The Dawn of Color

While the advancement of photography steadily progressed from daguerreotypes, through calotypes, wet plate collodion, dry gelatin plate, on to celluloid film, one aspect of this progress was a constant – the images obtained were monochromatic or gray scale, exhibiting a tonal response from white through gray to black. All of these methods failed to address a key limitation posed by the silver-based emulsions they all shared. They did not capture the natural world as the human eye perceived it – in color.

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A Brief History of Photography: Part 6 – KODAK & The Birth of Film

In 1883 George Eastman had just expanded his photographic dry plate mass production operation in Rochester, New York, and seemed to be in a strong position to dominate the market. Eastman’s initial entry into the photography world had introduced him to the complexities and physical burdens the early technology entailed; toxic chemicals, heavy equipment, short working times, and a need to technically master these challenges. As a result, his entrepreneurial efforts were fueled by a compulsion to continually improve the science of photography, to make it easier for the common man to employ, and to broaden its appeal, “to make the camera as convenient as the pencil.” This compulsion, combined with the technical contributions of his associates and competitors, led to photographic innovations that still serve us today. Continue reading “A Brief History of Photography: Part 6 – KODAK & The Birth of Film”

A Brief History of Photography: Part 5 – Dry Plate Photography

The photography enthusiasts of the mid-19th century were witness to a remarkable series of technological innovations and advancements, beginning with Niepce’s bitumen-based discovery in 1826, through the introduction in 1851 of wet-plate collodion as a high-image-quality, reproducible, and commercially viable process. However, the strict time constraints of the collodion process (the photographer needed to prepare, expose, and develop his photographic plates within 10-15 minutes) meant that the photographer needed to assume a near-professional approach to the task to address these demands. The photographer needed to be able to bring all the required chemistry on-site, and required either a permanent studio or transportable darkroom facility to prepare and develop his plates. For photography to find a wider circle of participants, a less demanding means was needed. Continue reading “A Brief History of Photography: Part 5 – Dry Plate Photography”

A Brief History of Photography: Part 4 – Wet Plate Collodion

As an aspiring photographer in 1850, one would be faced with a choice of two avenues to pursue, the daguerreotype process or Talbot’s calotype process.  Daguerre’s process offered extremely detailed positive images, but the limitation of only one-off image production; each image produced was a non-reproducible original.  Conversely, the calotype yielded softer, less sharp negative images, but one that could be used repeatedly to make multiple positive copies.  The new challenge then was to combine the strengths of these two processes while eliminating their shortfalls.

This was the dilemma facing Englishman Frederick Scott Archer (1814-1857), a sculptor who had been using calotype portraits to facilitate his sculptural work.  Archer realized the limitations imposed by paper as a carrier for the light-sensitive emulsion; even papers made translucent by waxing still softened the captured image, and transmitted the paper’s textures to the image.  Archer realized that a better carrier for the emulsion would be glass, but the light-sensitive chemicals would not adhere directly to glass; a binding agent, obviously clear, was required. Continue reading “A Brief History of Photography: Part 4 – Wet Plate Collodion”

A Brief History of Photography: Part 3 – The Birth of the Negative

Shortly after Louis Daguerre presented the results of his pioneering photographic work to the world in 1839, the daguerreotype appeared to stand alone as a unique technological achievement.  It seemed to address the primary concerns of the photographic experimenters of the time; to capture real-world images using a relatively short exposure time; to yield an image of acceptable resolution and aesthetic value; and   to create an image demonstrating a fade-free permanence. That the daguerreotype did all this so well, with no legal or patent restrictions on the practitioner, it was no wonder that the process quickly found a near fanatical following throughout the world.

Before the formal unveiling of Daguerre’s achievements in August 1839, word had begun to spread throughout Europe that the Frenchman had succeeded in developing an innovative method of recording camera images.  These rumors prompted an English scientist and mathematician, William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877), to hurriedly present the details of his independently developed process to the Royal Society in January and February 1839.  Unaware of each other’s efforts, both Daguerre and Talbot had been simultaneously working to solve the early riddles of photography.  While it turned out that each man had taken decidedly different technical approaches to the problem, Talbot had naturally assumed that Daguerre’s method mirrored his own, and he was attempting to establish a claim to priority.

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