kottke.org posts about early color photography
You've probably seen some of these before, but the 1600+ color photos from the 1930s & 1940s uploaded by the Library of Congress to Flickr are a wonderful look at America around the time of WWII. Here are a few quick favorites:
From Luminous Lint, a brief but comprehensive history of color photography.
To understand what is happening in color photography today it is beneficial to know what has been previously accomplished. The quest for color photography can be traced to Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre's 1839 public announcement of his daguerreotype process, which produced a finely detailed, one-of-a-kind, direct-positive photographic image through the action of light on a silver-coated copper plate. Daguerreotypes astonished and delighted, but nevertheless people complained that the images lacked color. As we see the world in color, others immediately began to seek ways to overcome this deficiency and the first colored photographs made their appearance that same year. The color was applied by hand, directly on the daguerreotype's surface. Since then scores of improvements and new processes have been patented for commercial use.
This is a photograph made by Louis Ducos du Hauron sometime between 1869-1879, a particularly early example of a vivid color photographic print that wasn't colored by hand.
See many other examples of early color photography in the kottke.org archives. (via @ptak)
Claude Friese-Greene shot these scenes in color around London in 1927.
Update: This footage was taken from the British Film Institute's YouTube channel and it turns out there's tons of color footage Friese-Greene shot around Britain in the 1920s. Like farm laborers in Devon in 1924, a busking family in Scotland in 1926, the docks in Cardiff in 1926, and much more. (via @magnakai)
In past few months, I linked to two collections of color photos of Paris taken in the 1910s and 1920s under the direction of Albert Kahn.
Recently Rue89 sent photographer Audrey Cerdan to recapture some of those old scenes in modern day Paris and knocked up an interface so that you can slide back and forth between the old and current photos. In some of the pairs of photos, pharmacies, tabacs, and boulangeries are in the same places. (thx, christophe)
In December, I linked to a small collection of color photos of Paris taken in the 1910s and 1920s. Here's a much more extensive collection of Parisian color photography. Some of my favorites:
The middle photo is of the flower market at Les Halles in 1914, which would be quite a thing to have experienced. (thx, julien)
Albert Kahn sent photographers all over the world in the early 1900s and amassed over 72,000 color photos in the process. Here are a few shots of his from Paris on the eve of World War I.
That photo is of the entrance to the Passage du Caire at the corner of Rue d'Alexandrie and Rue Sainte-Foy in the 2nd arrondissement. Here's what it looks like today:
Early color photography is a particular interest of mine, so Sanna Dullaway's efforts to colorize historical photos, including those of Abraham Lincoln, Thích Quảng Đức, and Anne Frank, are an intriguing twist on the theme.
German photographer Hugo Jaeger traveled around Poland after the Nazi invasion and documented daily life there. Life has a selection of Jaeger's color photos from that time.
Why would Hugo Jaeger, a photographer dedicated to lionizing Adolf Hitler and the "triumphs" of the Third Reich, choose to immortalize conquered Jews in Warsaw and Kutno (a small town in central Poland) in such an uncharacteristic, intimate manner? Most German photographers working in the same era as Jaeger usually focused on the Wehrmacht; on Nazi leaders; and on the military victories the Reich was so routinely enjoying in the earliest days of the Second World War. Those pictures frequently document brutal acts of humiliation, even as they glorify German troops.
The photographs that Jaeger made in the German ghettos in occupied Poland, on the other hand, convey almost nothing of the triumphalism seen in so many of his other photographs. Here, in fact, there is virtually no German military presence at all. We see the devastation in the landscape of the German invasion of Poland, but very little of the "master race" itself.
It is, of course, impossible to fully recreate exactly what Jaeger had in mind, but from the reactions of the people portrayed in these images in Warsaw and Kutno, there appears to be surprising little hostility between the photographer and his subjects. Most of the people in these pictures, Poles and Jews, are smiling at the camera. They trust Jaeger, and are as curious about this man with a camera as he is about them. In this curiosity, there is no sense of hatred. The men, women and children on the other side of the lens and Jaeger look upon one another without the aggression and tension characteristic of the relationship between perpetrator and victim.
It's still amazing the extent to which early color photography can transport us back to the past in a way that black & white photography or even video cannot.
These color photos taken of London during WWII's Battle of Britain are great.
Alan Taylor recently covered the Battle of Britain over at In Focus as well...I love this "business as usual" photo.
Color photographs of Ernest Shackleton's 1914 Antarctic expedition by Frank Hurley.
Early in 1915, their ship 'Endurance' became inexorably trapped in the Antarctic ice. Hurley managed to salvage the photographic plates by diving into mushy ice-water inside the sinking ship in October 1915.
Albert Kahn was a French banker and philanthropist who financed an extensive photography project in the early 1900s. His photographers traveled all around the world, eventually amassing a collection 72,000 color photos.
Kahn's project is the subject of a 9-part BBC documentary that's showing on Ovation this week. All the episodes repeat on Saturday starting at noon. (via constant siege)
Culled primarily from the Charles W. Cushman collection, a selection of color photographs of NYC taken in the 40s, 50s, and 60s: Downtown 1941, Downtown 1960, Lower East Side, and Miscellaneous. Here's a shot of Canal St in 1942 (with cobblestones!):
Does anyone know which corner this is? (Here's another view.) I poked around on Google Maps for a bit trying to find it, but I fear that building is long gone...Canal St, particularly the western part, is much changed since the 1940s.
Well, not so much The Beatles as The Quarrymen, a band formed by John Lennon and some schoolmates that was the precursor to The Beatles. (via @brainpicker)
The color photography of Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, who plied his trade in Russia in the early 1900s, is making the rounds online again. It's always worth a look. Prokudin-Gorskii made color photographs using a clever filtering system years before color photography would be widely available. As a result, his work goes on the list of things that seem contemporary but really aren't.
As Mike notes, I first linked to Prokudin-Gorskii's work more than 8 years ago (!!).
Update: Clayton James Cubitt reminded me that Prokudin-Gorskii took a color portrait of Leo Tolstoy in 1908. (thx, clayton)
André Zucca's color photographs of Paris during the German occupation of WWII have provoked controversy because Zucca worked for a German propaganda magazine. But Richard Brody argues that Zucca's photographs are true to the Paris of the time and don't just show the "cheerful ease" of the city's residents.
Certainly, Zucca couldn't get the whole story: he photographed Jews wearing the star but couldn't show the roundups or the deportation to Auschwitz; he could show German soldiers but couldn't show the arrest, torture, and execution of resisters. He couldn't, but nobody could; the problem wasn't that he worked for a propaganda rag: photographers who actively worked for the Resistance couldn't do it either. But what he did do was to capture the paradoxes of the Occupation, where horror and pleasure coexisted in shockingly close proximity, where the active resistance to Nazi occupation was in fact far less prevalent than the feigned daily oblivion of those who kept their heads down and tried to cope.
More of Zucca's photos are here.
I'm fascinated by early color photography...it takes a time we think of being in black & white and makes it accessible and modern. In the hands of Auguste and Louis Lumière, the "lowly, lumpy potato" made color photography possible in the early 1900s. The photos were called autochromes.
The Lumière brothers gathered up their potatoes and ground them into thousands of microscopic particles; they separated this powder into three batches, dying one batch red-orange, one violet and one green; the colored particles were thoroughly mixed and sifted onto a freshly varnished, clear glass plate while the lacquer remained tacky; excess potato bits were swept from the plate, which was pressed through steel rollers to flatten the colored grains, transforming each into a minuscule color filter measuring from .0006 to .0025 millimeters across. Gaps between the colored particles were filled in with carbon black, the plate was varnished again and a thin, light-sensitive emulsion of silver bromide was brushed over that. Now the plate was ready for the camera. When the shutter was opened, light filtered through the translucent potato grains, and a multicolored image was imprinted on the emulsion. After the negative plate was developed in the lab, it was washed and dried, covered with another piece of glass to protect the emulsion and bound with gummed tape. Et voilà! A color photograph unlike any seen before.
Here's a slideshow of some photos taken by this process. Here's some autochromes of Mark Twain from 1908.
More early color photography (not necessarily autochromes): Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii's stunning photographs of Russia circa 1909-1915, photos of WWI, photos of WWII, and photos of America in the late 30s/early 40s (color corrected). (thx, david)
The Library of Congress has an online photography exhibit called Bound for Glory: America in Color, 1939-1943 (thx, shay). The photos were a little low contrast, so I color corrected a few of them in Photoshop:
My goal was not to blow out the contrast or unnecessarily accentuate colors, but attempt to duplicate what these photos would look like had they been taken with a contemporary camera and processed using contemporary techniques and materials.
Bound for Glory and Color Corrected »
These color photographs of circa-1915 Tsarist Russia by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii are amazing (particularly these two).