When were single-use cameras invented?

175 years of photography - the photo becomes colorful

In its early days around 175 years ago, the world of photography was initially monochrome. But it was not long before the first color photographic processes were described, developed and applied:

How the colors came into the picture

Color played a role early on in the 175-year history of photography. First, however, the daguerreotypes and other black and white pictures introduced in 1839 were colored. But in 1861 the Scottish physics professor James Clerk Maxwell astonished his viewers in London when he showed a Scottish ribbon of honor in color on the screen with three projectors and red, green and blue filters. That was the hour of birth of color photography, even if it was just an experiment that was far from being followed by a generally accessible procedure. But soon there was a search for photography “in natural colors” in the cultural countries.

One of the oldest surviving color photographs is the view of Agen (Gers), the home of the French color photography pioneer Louis Ducos du Hauron.

Pioneers in France

The Frenchman Louis Ducos du Hauron then even undertook experiments with colored paper pictures. In 1868 he submitted the first patent specification for color photography, in which he described practically all the processes that were later carried out. It was curious that - independently of him - his compatriot Charles Cros was also working on proceedings. Due to the lack of a good communication link, the two inventors only found out about each other later. Colored pigment pictures by du Hauron have come down to us. But his and Cros ’ideas did not go straight into photography.

Because of the real high sensitivity of the Autochrome plates to light, the photographers were no longer dependent on studios, but could also take color photos outdoors.

It was again two Frenchmen, the brothers Louis and Auguste Lumière, whose father had invented the cinema, who in 1907 brought out the first commercially successful color photographic material with their autochrome plate. It was a glass slide on which there was a color grid of microscopically fine orange, green and violet colored potato starch grains, which served as tiny filters during the recording to only let light rays of the same color through onto the black and white photo layer. For viewing, they then created pictures consisting of countless color elements, which resembled the pointillist paintings by neo-impressionist painters. The autochrome plates were soon used in many countries and by well-known photographers such as the French Jacques Henri Lartigue, the German Heinrich Kühn and the Americans Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz. From 1912 onwards, photographers from the American "National Geographic Magazine", including Hans Hildenbrand from Stuttgart, switched to Autochrome. The Parisian banker Albert Kahn even used the plates of the photographers he sent to many countries to build an “archive of the planet” that was friendly to people.

Colored grains and lines

In the middle of the First World War, in 1916, Autochrome received competition from the Agfa color plate, whose grain grid was more transparent and which was improved twice in the 1920s. Nonetheless, it became less famous than Autochrome, and its slides were often mistaken for it. The fragile glass plates were uncomfortable, which is why Lumière and Agfa also made corresponding films from 1929/1932. Agfa withdrew the grain raster films from the market after the appearance of the "modern" Agfacolor films in 1938, while Lumière produced its color films until 1954. In terms of time, these were even overtaken by the English Dufaycolor films, which were only given up in 1958 and which differed fundamentally from the French and German films. Their grid, consisting of red, green, and blue dye lines, was regular. It could therefore not happen, as with the irregular grain grid of Autochrome, that people portrayed with it were given a green nose, for example because of a cluster of green grains. All of these color grid materials already ensured a certain spread of color photography, even if they had to be exposed for a long time because the dye elements depressed the photosensitivity.

Prof. Dr. Adolf Miethe from the Technical University of Berlin-Charlottenburg had this special color camera built for him in 1902. Its design feature is the long interchangeable slide for the elongated photo plate for taking three pictures one after the other through red, green and blue filters.

Professionals used special color cameras

While the color grid plates and films had the advantage that all the colors of the subject were recorded on a single photographic material, for reasons of quality, professional color photographers preferred to work with three plates or films that were black and white, but red, green and blue The filter exposes the motif components of these three basic colors. However, special cameras were required for their exposure. Various models have been designed since 1895. The most famous in Germany were the cameras of the Berlin Dr. Adolf Miethe and Wilhelm Bermpohl, who in turn were fundamentally different. Miethe used a so-called interchangeable sled camera for his recordings from Upper Egypt and Spitsbergen and for his Stollwerck chocolate pictures from “Germany's Gauen”. She used an elongated photo plate that was pneumatically moved vertically in order to take the three necessary individual photos one after the other. The three images, projected congruently one above the other through appropriate color filters, showed a “natural-colored” image on the canvas.

The most famous special camera was the "natural color camera" from Bermpohl, Berlin, which came out in 1929. With her, the three images required for color images were made simultaneously via an optical beam splitter element behind the lens.

Bermpohl and others avoided the mistake of the interchangeable slide cameras of depicting moving objects with colored borders by exposing the three plates or films at the same time. Its design feature was a glass prism or mirror system located behind the camera lens, which, as a so-called beam splitter, directed light components onto the three semi-circular recording materials. In front of them were the three necessary color filters. The university professor Miethe had already introduced his camera in 1902 - with the support of the camera operator Bermpohl - while Bermpohl himself only brought out his "natural color camera" in 1929. It is said to have been exported exclusively to American professional photographers until 1938. Another German "beam splitter camera" was constructed by Bermpohl's son-in-law Emil Reckmeier and used around 1933. In contrast to the precious wood case of the "Bermpohl", the "Reckmeier" had a metal case. This also applied to the "Jos-Pe" from 1924 of the Hamburg company of the same name, which derived its name from the first names of its financier Josef-Peter Welker. All of these historical cameras can still be found in photo museums. Similar cameras were used in the USA until the late 1940s, but were then replaced by large format Kodachome and Ektachrome sheet films.

"Three-color photography" on paper

Of course, people were not satisfied with slides, which with the color grid plates were not recommended because of the harmful heat developing in the projectors and which also required special projectors when taking pictures with special cameras, but wanted colored reflective images. A model for this were the old pigment prints by Ducos du Hauron, in which three foils with the image parts in yellow, purple and blue-green were carefully mounted on top of each other. So they worked with the subtractive color mixture of three body colors, while the color grid plates and slides of the special cameras were based on the additive light-color mixture, as digital photographs do today. In a second color photo “precious printing” process for the production of reflective images, cliché-like foils were produced from the three negatives taken with a special camera, which were then colored with yellow, purple and blue-green dyes according to the color components of the motif. From these, the dyes were finally sucked off on a white base so that they fit one above the other.

The technology-loving Kaiser Wilhelm II had himself portrayed in 1906 in the color photo studio of the Berliner Neue Photographische Gesellschaft für Bilder using their pigment process. However, he found the pictures to be too “colorful”.

The best known of the first group included the German NPG processes (1903-1911) of the Neue Photographische Gesellschaft, Steglitz (Berlin), and Duxochrom (1929-1963) by Johannes Herzog, Hemelingen (Bremen). Before 1945, the combination of the Bermpohl camera and Duxochrome was particularly popular, and was also practiced by the “photo reporter at the Fiihrer” Walter Frentz and the “Reich winner color photography” Hermann Harz. The suction processes going back to the pioneer Charles Cros included, for example, the Pinatypie from Farbwerke Hoechst (1905 to around 1925) and, above all, Dye Transfer from Kodak (1947-1995), with which many American portrait and advertising photographers worked. Due to the selected dyes used in archives and museums, all images made using this process have remained stable, which cannot necessarily be said of the later “modern” color papers.

Because of the very long exposure times that were initially necessary for color photographs, still lifes were popular subjects. This picture was taken around 1926 after the suction process by Jos-Pe, Hamburg.

Kodak and Agfa produced the first multilayer films

The older color processes were time-consuming and complicated, so that black and white photography dominated for a long time. That would eventually change after the introduction of so-called modern color films and papers. The basic idea for the production of color photographic materials, in which yellow, purple and blue-green partial images were developed by means of so-called color coupler substances in three firmly connected layers, had already been developed in 1911/1912 by the technical director of the Neue Photographische Gesellschaft, Dr. Rudolf Fischer had. But it was not until 1935/1936 before the important photochemical manufacturers Eastman Kodak (USA) and Agfa (Germany) were ready to pour thin layers of the thickness of woman's hair, the components of which remained firmly in the layers intended for them. First in 1935, the Kodachrome cine film had the advantage of being able to be used in any “normal” camera. The next year the corresponding slide film followed and soon afterwards in November 1936 Agfacolor Neu - so named because Agfacolor screen materials were also produced. Both initially brought about a considerable simplification of color photography for slides with higher film speeds for snapshots. Photo books and illustrated books still bear witness to the level of performance initially achieved by the new films. Of the German color photographers, Dr. Paul Wolff and Alfred Tritschler, Erich Retzlaff and Walter Hege should be mentioned, with the American ones Ansel Adams, Ernst Haas and Eliot Porter stand out.

The color slide films Kodachrome and Agfacolor came out almost at the same time in 1936 and realized this as early as 1911/1912 by Dr. Rudolf Fischer, Berlin, invented the multi-layer principle with colored development.

The invention of the negative / positive process made it possible to easily reproduce the images, the colored paper image. The complementary colored negative can be seen on the left.

In early 1942, Kodak had Kodacolor, a color negative film with associated color paper for amateurs. At Agfa in Germany, too, the negative / positive process for paper images was finished at the same time, but due to the war conditions initially only color films were used. There were already some imitations of Kodachrome and Agfacolor during the Second World War. Then, after 1945, other brands followed in Europe and overseas, also because of the Agfacolor patents that were free as a result of the war. Due to the division of Germany, there were even two types of Agfacolor films and papers, namely from Leverkusen in the west and Wolfen in the east. Around 1960, the color films by Adox from Neu-Isenburg and Perutz from Munich temporarily competed with Agfa in West Germany. In addition, there were sales brand films from Foto-Quelle, Neckermann and others.

A royal photo model: The English Princess Elizabeth was portrayed in London around 1943 on large-format Kodachrome sheet film.

In the course of time, the color rendering of all films could be improved considerably and their sensitivity to light increased considerably. In the last few years before the general introduction of digital photography, all the major manufacturers competed with new types of film released at short intervals in different light sensitivities, for natural skin tones and with rich colors. While the instant photo materials are still being produced by Fujifilm, Polaroid instant photos were revived two years ago in the form of the “Impossible Project” films from Enschede (Holland). The Polacolor film had caused a sensation when it came out in 1963. In the same year, the famous Swiss Cibachrome materials for brilliant, light-resistant enlargements of color slides were presented at photokina - often the premier location for color photographic products as well. Like so many materials in analog photography, they have also disappeared from the market. Improvements in color films are no longer to be expected, since the films available on the market have long been mature.
See also: 175 years of photography

Text of the Photoindustrie-Verband e.V. on 175 years of photography; edited.
Image material © Image archive Koshofer
Reprinted with the kind permission of the Photoindustrie-Verband e.V.