Today we often take for granted the ability to replicate the colorful world around us through color photographs. However, from the earliest days of the photographic process creative individuals tried relentlessly to take the grayscale images produced by early photographic techniques and add the color of the world.
(Earliest known color photograph)
The earliest practical photographic processes began to appear in the 1830’s. Almost immediately photographers and artists alike began experimenting with adding color to the grainy sepia colored images. Though the mid 1800’s the hand coloring of photographs became a popular way to add some color to the images. This process involved painting certain areas of the photo with a mixture of gum arabic and common pigments then adhering the color with heat. This process was time consuming and could not be used for mass distribution of images. In fact, these hand painted photos took on a artistic quality of their own separate from the mediums of photography or painting.
In the last few years of the 1800’s physiologists rather than photographers laid the groundwork for color photography as we know it today. These enterprising scientists were experimenting with materials that could capture individual channels of light, specifically, green, blue and red channels. Since photographic film is already designed to capture spectrums of light it did not take much of leap for these materials to become a new type of photographic film capable of capturing multiple channels of light not just grayscale.
This new film known as Tripack began to find its way into photographers cameras by the early years of the 1900’s. However, developing techniques for color images were still prohibitivly expensive and complicated causing many images that were capable of being produced in color to be developed in grayscale.
It was not until the 1960’s that the complexities of developing color film had been refined to a degree that reproducing the world in color began affordable for everyone.