Nowadays, we take colour photography for granted, but have you ever considered how it came about? The quest for colour photography was a bit like the ‘Holy Grail’, but through trial and error it was eventually achieved! The beginning of the 20th century was the debut of colour in both photography and cinema. Both photography and cinema required technological advances in terms of design to create colour film. Even after colour was perfected in photography and cinema, people’s loyalties were still with the traditional Black and White, and it took awhile for people to come to terms with using colour.
When was colour photography invented?
People were desperate to bring their photos to life with the use of colour, and to begin with, this meant hand-colouring photos… This was cheap and simple, but there was a greater desire to capture the exact photos and record the colours directly, in the same way that light and shade were captured.
Photo Credit: Science + Media Museum
Who? It was invented by the French Lumière brothers and was , reached the market in 1907.
Photo Credit: Les Frères Lumière, Collection Institut Lumière
When? It was first marketed in 1907.
What? The first commercially successful colour process was the Lumière Autochrome, which was based on an irregular screen plate filter made of dyed grains of potato put into three coloured strips.
Kodachrome vs. Agfacolor - the rivalry of colour film
Photo Credit: Verschwiegene Geschichte
Kodachrome was invented by Leopold Mannes and Leopold Godowsky, both professional musicians, with expert help from Kenneth Mees (director of Eastman Kodak research labs). They decided to concentrate on developing a practical three-colour multi-layer film system.
Kodachrome is, effectively, a black and white film to which coloured dyes are added. This processing involved repeated development, dyeing and then selective bleaching. This extremely complex process had 28 stages and had to be done by the professionals in the research lab in Rochester.
Kodachrome film first went on sale in America in April 1935 and reached Britain in 1937.
Photo Credit: Pellicule Kodachrome
In the same year, but on the other side of the Atlantic in Germany, Agfa also announced a multi-layer colour film called ‘Agfacolor-Neu’ - ‘new’ to indicate that it was different from their earlier products.
Agfa’s research chemists had found a way to hold the individual emulsion layers together, which meant that their films could even be processed at home, unlike Kodachrome.
Photo Credit: Pellicule Agfacolor
A Japanese brand then entered the market in 1948 with a first colour film: the famous Fujifilm. Fujifilm was the only one of these three brands to go down the digital path, developing the production further. Instant photos were then produced in colour by Polaroid in 1963, when Polacolor was introduced to the market.
Photo Credit: Practical Photography
Colour photography hits the public market
Colour films were expensive to use and produce, so it was mainly used in the 1970s in the production of magazines for the public.
Like any great invention, colour in photography received criticism. It was seen primarily as a commercial movement, rather than the new, artistic art form that it was. This was even criticised for a long time in 1969 by the famous American photographer Walker Evans before he finally gave in and began using it himself. The Polaroid SX 70 was clearly just too irresistible not to use, thanks to its compact size and ease of use!
To change the prejudices people had developed about colour photography, an exhibition by William Eggleston was installed at Moma in New York in 1976. It was gladly received and is recognised as a turning point in renouncing its previously “commercial” label.
William Eggleston is one of the pioneers of colour documentary photography, demonstrating that colour, as well as black and white, can also portray realism…
Photo Credit: William Eggleston, The democratic forest, 1983-1986
Martin Parr, a British photographer, takes more documentary-like photos. He has a distinct style, which was marked by ridicule and irony. His began this style of photography in the 80s and continues it to this day.
Photo Credit: Martin Parr
Photo Credit: Martin Parr