Starving for a New World of Color

Starving for a New World of Color

It seems like just about anything with a battery can take a photograph these days. From mobile phones to the MacBook's built-in iSight and keychains to wristband underwater cameras, the camera has stepped away from being just a box of light.

I remember the wonderful entity known as 'they' saying that the human eye has the equivalent of about five-hundred megapixels, and that's how we can perceive depth and the difference between a dramatically realistic-looking photograph and an actual object. With digital cameras crawling up the megapixel mountain, I don't think five-hundred will be seen in my lifetime, but I never thought seven megapixels would be seen either, and I have seven-point-one on my desk. Looking back at film, it seems the evolution of putting a camera in common hands has been fueled by a hunger to share and be shared.

Eager to Capture the Scene

Camera Obscura
Early portable cameras, opposed to the Camera Obscura (similar to a pinhole camera of a room seen above), were naturally plagued by inconvenience. The first was designed by Johann Zahn in 1685, and models following only added some sliding boxes for primitive focus. The earliest shots required absolute stillness of the subject, resulting in a lot less smiles, and some blurred subjects who lost patience or had an itch. The earliest 'photographs' were engrained into copper plates, and huge science-expirement-like flashes were the first in on-command lighting. The compound of silver and chalk was first discovered by the discovery of scientist Johann Heinrich Schultz in 1724. The first permanent photo was taken in 1826, and photos from that point on can still be seen, though their rarity is increasing and steep. Like all things, they can deteriorate, rust, or be lost, and developing the exposures was never easy, and could often fail, even in darkrooms.

Fade to Colour

The first permanent colour shot was taken in 1861 by James Clerk Maxwell, a Scottish physicist referenced in an earlier blog post. While black-and-white photos would remain popular (and much more affordable), this first venture into colour would not be over-looked, as it seemed all enthusiasts were begging to be let into the world of captured colour. Only overshadowed by what was about to come for film, the colour photograph would soon be remembered when the burning desire to become a part of the world on screen would change everything.

Putting Film in Your Hands

In 1885, founder of Eastman Kodak George Eastman invented roll film, which allowed for anyone to be able to use film and later became one of the principles behind moving film. Furthermore, in 1888, Eastman patented the handheld camera that used roll film, and could operate at the push of a button. While registering the name Kodak, he also used the slogan, "You Press the Button and We Do the Rest." With roll film came the invention of moving film.

Edison Thought It'd Never Catch On

With the development of moving film, the first of many popular scenes being small and subject to rapid changes in light, a new world of possibility opened. With vaudeville on the rise, it should serve as no surprise that even these early scenes made their way to the embracing public eye. The first of many successful films were developed by Thomas Edison, whom didn't see the moving pictures as doing anything more than sating novelty. Along with his assistant William Kennedy Laurie, short clips like Sandow the Strong Man, featuring an extremely muscular man flexing and posing, and The Kiss, resembling a scene from the opera Carmen, were the first in many, many more shared perspectives to come. Those perspectives were something people had rarely before considered, let alone been able to see. For those with a sizeable wallet, and trust fund, film was the new frontier, as Edison never saw a reason to file for international patents. French stage-magician-turned-filmmaker Georges Méliès seemed to design his work around play. Having been credited for accidentally discovering stop motion, he was one of the first to use dissolve effects, time lapse photography, and hand-painted colour frames.

Seen here is Méliès' 1900 work L'homme Orchestre:

Coloured Frames

It became commonplace to see certain parts of early black-and-white films with coloured frames. The Serpentine Dance, a film by William K. L. Dickson, showcased vaudeville dancer Annabelle Moore's dancing art, which revolved around the flowing of her dress and her movements to produce a number of patterns. A later, similar film, Butterfly Dance, was seen in yellow dye. Even continuing on to the era when the Marx Brothers were popular, hand-coloured films were received with such fervour. From actually applying paint on individual frames to staining the film itself, coloured film placed a new, powerful tool in the film artists' hands. While the earliest in colour was jumpy and inconsistent, it ran consistent that people were starved to see life through a projection of light.

Marx Brothers in Colour

Color Rolling into Lives

Colour film first immerged simultaneously in two forms, Kodachrome and Agfacolor, invented respectively by Kodak and Agfa, which started as a dye and stain manufacturer in Germany. Today's film works more closely with Agfacolor, which had the pigments necessary to make colour already in the the emulsifier layers on the film rather than Kodachrome's need for colour infusion. This three-colour blend film was popularised by filmmakers and magazine photographers.

Share, and Share Alike

With the invention of the digital camera in by Steven Sasson in 1975, it seemed like a whole new medium just meant more complications. Given time, digital photography allowed the user to become the developer, and actually see the shots before printing, devoloping and sharing. Now, sharing photographs has never been easier and more affordable. The one time cost of a camera(, or several depending on how much you keep up with advances or how many times you've dropped it,) and a memory card can open your world to so many others. Uploading the shots from your day can be as easy as a cable to your computer, with no darkrooms needed. Sharing your photos or video comes as easily as attachments on e-mail. Putting your captured world up on Flickr, or YouTube means that even passer-bys can find your world.

And all of this mountain climbing just started in the 1800s.

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Showing 1 - 5 of 5 Comments


Wow, how interesting! I always secretly wanted to be a film student, but I lacked the drive and true interest that it requires...I love that film clip of L’homme Orchestre. It's amazing to see how much things have grown and advanced in film technology.


Very neat. However, what really creates depth is our two eyes, and the distance between their fields of vision, which gives our brain the data to form an idea of a 3d object. Attempts at various 3d filming, and more importantly playback, techniques are pretty fascinating. In this age of massive processing power, finally able to serve and sync images at a rate that would work, and cheap (sort of) display technology - by gum we'll have a truly "realistic" film (or video) scene in front of us in the coming years.

There's breakthroughs yet to come!


Oh yeah, mix the above thought with HDR and we'll be seeing something we could only imagine.


What an interesting article! I do love my digital camera for the affordability and ease of printing and use, but I have found that a certain richness and depth of color is lacking. It's subtle, hard to even tell unless you have a film and digital photograph side by side. So I still whip out my old 35 mm every now and then.


An interesting article except from a grave mistake in the origins of the camera obscura

The first camera obscura was actually invented in the 10th century by a well-known Muslim scientist and polymath named Alhasan Ibn Alhaitham or (Alhazan) like the latin books refer to him.

>>" Alhazen gave the first clear description[44] and correct analysis[45] of the camera obscura and pinhole camera. While Aristotle, Theon of Alexandria, Al-Kindi (Alkindus) and Chinese philosopher Mozi had earlier described the effects of a single light passing through a pinhole, none of them suggested that what is being projected onto the screen is an image of everything on the other side of the aperture. Alhazen was the first to demonstrate this with his lamp experiment where several different light sources are arranged across a large area. He was thus the first to successfully project an entire image from outdoors onto a screen indoors with the camera obscura."

An artistic impression showing Ibn al-Haitham and his camera obscura in Cairo, Egypt.

Front page of a Latin edition of Alhazen's Thesaurus opticus, showing how Archimedes set on fire the Roman ships before Syracuse with the help of parabolic mirrors.

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