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Color Photography

The inability to capture color was disappointing to early photographers, and daguerreotypists began to color plates by hand to augment the images. With fine-tipped brushes, dry powdered pigments were applied to the highly fragile plates, often to highlight jewelry or to give a rosy glow to the subject’s cheeks. Tintypes and ambrotypes were also hand-colored.

Experimentation with complicated color processes abounded in the nineteenth century. As early as 1850, Levi L. Hill claimed to have succeeded in fixing colors on daguerreotype plates, but did not produce his findings in a viable format. British physicist James Clerk Maxwell is credited with producing the world’s first color photograph, in which three successive exposures were taken using a red, green, and blue filter, and then superimposed onto each other. The trichromatic process serves as the basis for modern color photography.

Autochrome was the first generally available process for color photography. Autochomres are colored transparent images on glass. Autochrome glass plates consisted of four layers, one of which was a dusting of millions of microscopic transparent grains of potato starch dyed red (orange), green, and blue (violet). During exposure, light passed through this layer of starch before reaching the emulsion: the starch acted as a filter and recorded the intensity of light in each of the three colors. French brothers Louis and Auguste Lumière developed the autochrome process in the early 1900s, patenting it in France in 1904 and in 1906 in the United States. It remained the most advanced form of color photography until the 1930s.

Later Color Processes

The subtractive color system replaced the additive color processes in the 1930s. Subtractive color relies on thin images of magenta, yellow, and cyan blue which when layered make a full color picture. This is the basis of all color prints, film, and transparencies today. The additive color system (also known as RGB—red, green and blue) is used today for television and computer screens.

Eastman Kodak introduced Kodachrome in 1935 and with it, initiated the modern era of color photography: it was one of the first successful color films that was used for both cinematography and still photography. Kodachrome enjoyed an unrivaled longevity in the marketplace (1935-2009). Popularized by Kodak in the 1940s, the dye-transfer process produces a type of color print made by a three superimposed layers of dye (cyan, magenta and yellow) that are transferred in careful registration to a gelatin-coated paper base. The resulting print is relatively permanent (as it contains no silver halides) and contains brilliant, vibrant colors and deep blacks. Kodak ceased producing all the materials required for the process in 1994. Instant color film was introduced by Polaroid in 1963.



Dyed potato starch grains used in autochrome G. Lindsay (George Lindsay) Johnson (b. 1853)

Photography in colours : a text-book for amateurs and students of physics : with a chapter on kinematography in the colours of nature / by George Lindsay Johnson. London : G. Routledge ; New York : E.P. Dutton, 1914.

gift of William I. Homer

Shown here in Plate IX, in clear microscopic detail, are the three-colored potato starch grains in a print from a Lumière autochrome plate.





Bruce Whiteman (b.1952)

XXIV short love poems ; with photographs by Carolee Campbell. Sherman Oaks, Calif. : Ninja Press, 2002.

The photographs in this book of love poems are cyanotypes, a nineteenth-century photographic process. They are sensitized by hand and printed on Velke Losiny paper by the photographer, who also designed, printed, and created the binding. Campbell’s choice of an historic process complements the tone and texture of the poems as well as the paper she accordion-folded into a binding of decorated paper over boards with a cloth spine. Of 135 numbered copies signed by both poet and photographer, this is copy 115.

Earle Harrison.Autochrome of the Panama Canal by Earle Harrison

The Panama Canal : illustrated by color photography from the original autochrome photographs. New York : Moffat, Yard, 1913.

Dodd, Mead publisher’s file copy








Autochrome cover of Furka und Grimsel-PassPhotoglobe Company (Zurich)

Furka und Grimsel-Pass. Zurich : Photoglobe, circa 1910.

gift of Mae Carter


Jo Ann Callis ( b. 1940)"Parrot and Sailboat" by Jo Ann Callis

Jo Ann Callis : objects of reverie : selected photographs / Raymond Carver, poems ; Buzz Spector, essay ; Julia Brown Turrell, introduction. Des Moines : Des Moines Art Center ; Santa Rosa, CA : Black Sparrow Press, 1989.

Ohio-born Jo Ann Callis studied at UCLA in the 1970s under Robert Heineken, who was known for radical redirection of photography in art. Callis was a pioneer of “fabricated photography,” using color and digital imagery as an artistic tool to manipulate tone, texture, and narrative in her art. The color images shown here seem saturated, affecting the depth and logic of the captured scenes. This book was issued in conjunction with 1989 exhibitions of Callis’s photography at the Des Moines Art Center and the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art. There were 1,000 copies in paper wrappers and 150 hardcover copies that were numbered and signed; this is copy number 1 autographed by the photographer.



Rudy VanderLans SupermarketRudy VanderLans (b. 1955)

Supermarket. Corte Madera, Calif. : Gingko Press, 2001.

Impressed by his new environment, Dutch-born typographer and graphic designer VanderLans began photographing California after moving there in 1981. He pursued graduate studies in photography at the School of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley, where he met his wife, Zuzana Licko. The two are partners in the digital type foundry Émigré Fonts and Rudy VanderLans published Émigré Magazine, a quarterly devoted to visual communication, for 25 years (1984-2009). Supermarket is VanderLans’s visual essay on space and light and color in the California desert.





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