Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Invention of Color

There's a postcard on my wall—a reproduction from an exhibit at the Neue Galerie in New York City of a photograph by the Austro-German photographer Heinrich Kühn (1866-1944), who was one of the crucial early inventors of the technology for taking color photographs. It's of a box of paints—he is basically showing off what his new experiment can do:




Kühn's other photographs are startling because they're color photos of a world that we think of as existing before color photography. It's a fin-de-siècle world of children in pastel smocks and women in shirtwaists; color makes it seem far less remote.


It's interesting that Kühn was, from the beginning, interesting in using color artistically, not just as a curiosity; his photos are all touched with a kind of soft-focus nostalgia, even though they come from a time when sepia and blurriness weren't necessarily yet signifiers of Heimweh.


Interestingly, some of the techniques Kuhn used to make color photos of visible light aren't too dissimilar from the techniques used to make multiple-spectra photos of astronomical objects, like the one we took of the Crab Nebula in my freshman-year astronomy class. You use filters to take images of different ranges of light, including non-visible light, one-by-one, and then you combine them:


Incidentally, here's a professional image of the same (from a Georgia State University website):




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