Pioneers of Color Photography

The history of color photography features many key players and pioneers. In anticipation of the Cinema Issue, GLIMPSE is taking a brief look at some of them, and their contributions to the world of photography.

Paris, France 1864

Louis Ducos du Hauron, a French physicist, developed a motin picture device in 1864. In 1869, he patented a series of practical methods of color printing based on the tri-color theory and the heliochrome system. Using a series of filters, he was able to print color photographs by printing the negatives on sheets of bichromated gelatin that were complementary colors of the negatives themselves. When the positive images were superimposed over the negatives, the resulting image was in color.

Meanwhile, Charles Crocs, another French physicist, developed the similar process in his physics lab. Unfortunately he published his findings 48 hours after de Hauron patented his.

London, England 1861

James Clerk Maxwell, prominent physicist and mathematician, projected a color photograph through a series of filters to show a photograph of the original image in its original color.

West Kill, New York 1851

Levi Hill, an American minister, claimed to be the father if color photography. He presented what he claimed was the first color photograph while experimenting in an early photographic process known as the “daguerreotype.” Hill failed to patent his eponymous “Hillotype” process but did not give up on what he discovered, making a series of Hillotype photographs in color.  Over 160 years later, the Smithsonian Institution now boasts a collection of 62 Hillotypes that have been under severe scrutiny. Using spectroscopy the Smithsonian Institution has finally given substance to the myth. It was found that though Levi Hill enriched his photographs with a series of chemical pigments, the photographs the he produced were in fact faint color photographs.

How about it, all you photographers/photo-appreciators? Who are your favorite historical heros of color photography?


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