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The first color photo was taken by Thomas Sutton in Edinburgh, Scotland. The photograph was taken in 1861.
When photography was invented in the early 1800’s it was a difficult, expensive and complex process to create a permanent image. These limitations meant that it remained a pursuit that only wealthy inventors and those with significant financial backing could afford and so it was some time before it was widely available to the general public.
The remarkable strides made by the early inventors of photography, such as Nicephore Niepce, paved the way for future developments and in 1861 Thomas Sutton went on to take the first color photo.
In the Beginning – The History of Color Photography.
Following the development of the first photographs most people who were involved in the fledgling industry were focused primarily on making improvements to the existing technology, with colorizing the photography being a distant dream! In the early days the primary ambition of photographers and inventors alike was to make photography more suitable and accessible for use in portraiture.
By the end of the 19th Century most of the technical difficulties had been overcome on the technical side of black and white photography and people were beginning to employ painters to color their photographs for them! This became hugely popular in Europe and was all the rage among the elite classes who could afford it until the invention of Autochrome plates.
The Emergence of Autochrome Photography.
In 1907 August and Louis Lumiere invented the autochrome technique of photography. The results were beautiful however the technique was still difficult, cumbersome and cost restrictive. The screen plate filter was made using a potato starch and utilized three colors but the images could only be viewed as projections or against a back light. This made them impractical and restrictive but the technique continued to inspire the search for a full color alternative that could be mass produced.
Color Photography Explodes onto the Scene in the 1930’s.
Finally, in the mid 1930’s the legendary photography company Kodak developed the first full color ‘integral tripack’ color film. The film was called ‘Kodachrome’ and was the latest development by George Eastwood’s company that had made its name by producing the first mass produced camera. Strangely enough the process was actually developed by two professionally trained classical musicians, Leopold Mannes and Leopold Godowsky, who worked with George Eastman. The duo were irreverently nicknamed ‘Man and God’ however despite their classical music excellence it was their work at the Kodak Research Laboratories that made them famous.
The Kodachrome film used three layers of emulsion each of which had three colors, red, green and blue. This film was loaded into the camera and with a single click the user had produced a color photograph. One of Kodak’s advertising motto’s at the time was ‘You press the button, and we do the rest’ and, true to their word, they did!
This revolutionary new process opened the way for the average consumer to take color photographs, and although the film was still quite expensive, the trend not only caught on but went on to become a stable of modern life.
The color film continued to be improved, not only by Kodak who had cornered the market but also by their German rivals, Agfa, however it was the Polaroid cameras and film that were released in 1963 that changed everything. The instant, color photographs that used a positive-negative peel-apart process allowed users to take a photograph and have it in their hands moments later. The slightly gaudy, tricolor images became an icon of the era.
Age of Digital Photography – 1995.
In the mid 1990’s digital cameras that could shoot in color and black and white came onto the market. These inexpensive cameras once again revolutionized the photography industry and a generation was born that would, for the first time in human history, think nothing of snapping a photo! There have been few inventions in human history that have done more to change society than the readily available, easy and cheap to use, cameras of the modern era.
There is an odd self reflection that occurs when one is photographed and not only has this become commonplace but it has become utterly ubiquitous. It is not unusual for people to take photographs of their pets, something almost unthinkable only 100 years ago, but also their food, themselves and others on a daily basis and of course, everyone is filmed constantly by the all seeing eyes of CCTV cameras that perch like crows on every corner.
Photography has changed how we see ourselves.
We have all become a species that watches itself, perpetually on the look out for a new angle. It’s a massively divergent and strange world that was heralded by the invention of photography and the mass produced camera.
Artists and creatives have, of course, thrived in the new order and as photography has become a staple of modern life no wedding, party or gathering of people would be complete without a photograph to immortalize it.
This drastic transition of habits, mindset and perception has occurred so fast that nobody has really had time to digest the full implications of it. Nonetheless, the introduction of color photography and the easily accessible camera has been one of the most profound technological shifts in human consciousness that the world has experienced since the discovery of fire.
The First Color Photo.
The first color photograph that was ever taken was done by Thomas Sutton in Edinburgh, Scotland, and was a photograph of a Tartan Ribbon, taken in 1861. Sutton took the photograph three times, each time with a different color filter, first red, then green and then blue-violet. The photograph was then developed and printed on glass after which it was projected onto a screen. The idea was formulated by Thomas Sutton’s friend and colleague, James Clerk Maxwell, who’s incredible insight and invention is now remembered at his home on India Street in Edinburgh where a small museum still holds the original plates of the first color photograph to this day.
The Early Pioneers of Color Photography – Paving the way for a new world.
Color photography was available since the mid 1930;s, however fine art photographers held it in low esteem. It was generally seen as the medium of the family photo, advertising and the beach side postcard. This all changed in the 1970’s, when American photographers such as Eggleston, Shore and Meyerowitz began to utilize color photography to capture the essence of life in the USA. These early pioneers of color photography helped to pave the way for future photographers using their own artistic talents and insight to start to create a path that many feet would follow.
Do you like black and white or color photographs?