Friday, October 28, 2005

Pre-War Colour Photography

(Photographs,, unless otherwise stated)
World War One that is!
Last night I was chatting with a friend online, and we were discussing Russian photography, and it reminded me of a BBC Documentary I saw about a year ago, concerning this phototgrapher.

The chap shown here is one Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, who was commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II to take photographs of people and places throughout the Russian Empire. The project lasted from 1909-1912, and with some additional photographs taken in 1915.

The clinch to this however, is that Prokudin was nearly the only colour photographer in Imperial Russia (The process being in it's early infancy, experimental, and highly expensive). Prokudin invented his own technique, which involved taking a series of rapid photographs, each through a different coloured filter. By putting all three pictures together with the correct light, you could reconstruct the entire scene in the correctcolour, without resorting to tinting black-and-white photographs. The results, you can see here.

The drawback however, was that the photographs could not be reprinted in colour, so they were expensive and rare. That said, Prokudin was not the only colour photographer of his day. Auguste and Louis Lumière, who invented the three-in-one motion picture camera, also patented a colour photography process, the Autochrome Lumière, in 1907. This was the principal colour process until 1935. This involved processing a slide of, as Wikipedia put it: random mosaic of microscopic grains of potato starch, with lampblack filling the space between grains, and a black and white film base. The grains are a mixture of those dyed orange, green and blue, and act as color filters. The film is processed as a slide, (that is the film is first developed to a negative image and then reversed to a positive image) and the starch grains must remain in alignment with the film base after processing in order to allow the colors to be seen properly. The photo here, is of a World War One biplane, taken in 1917.

More complicated than a digital camera, perhaps! ;), and possibly very boring subject. But it is fascinating to see colour photography in it's infancy, as much as it is to see early photography in the 1840s.
It is amazing that some of these photographs even exist!

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