Friday, February 09, 2007

Color Photos, 1911

Someone posted a link to photos of turn-of-the-century Russia, and at first I thought they were colorized versions of orignal black and white photos. Not so -- the photographer, Prokudin-Gorskii, had figured out how to make colored images from mutiple black and white glass-plate images. He took three distinct photos -- with green, blue, and red filters. He never printed photos in color, of course, but he mimicked the output by projecting the three images onto a screen simultaneously during his lectures.

This photo (from the Empire that was Russia website) is NOT a modern photo. It was taken in 1911. The photo is of the newly ascended Emir of Bukhara and was not "colorized" by modern methods. The website explains how they reproduced the color photos from the glass-plate images, but what I was struck by was the modernity of the images. They look as if they were taken last week, with modern equipment.

They're easier to relate to than black-and-white images, for some reason. There is a liveliness there that you don't usually see in old photograps. I wonder if that's just because we are so programmed to see things in color, and black-and-white photos (especially old photos) are seen as 'unreal'.

You can see the rest of the photos on the website -- the architecture photos are particularly striking, as if the explanation of how they do it.

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