Images and Words: An Online History of Photography

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Focal PressRobert Hirsch Exploring Color Photography, Fifth edition (Focal Press, 2011)
Chapter: 2 Section: 16
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2.16. The Subtractive Method

Louis Ducos du Hauron not only proposed a method for making color photographs with the additive process in Les Couleurs en photographie , he also suggested a method for making color photographs using the subtractive process. [1|2|16|1469]

The subtractive process operates by removing certain colors from white light while allowing others to pass. The modern subtractive primaries (cyan, magenta, and yellow) are the complementary colors of the three additive primaries (red, green, and blue). When white light is passed through one of the subtractive-colored filters it transmits two of the primaries and absorbs (subtracts) the other. Individually, each subtractive filter transmits two-thirds of the spectrum while blocking one-third of it. For example, a magenta filter passes red and blue but blocks green. When two filters are superimposed, they subtract two primaries and transmit one. Magenta and yellow filters block green and blue, allowing red to pass. When all three subtractive primaries overlap in equal amounts, they block all the wavelengths and produce black. When mixed in varying proportions, they are capable of making almost any color. The advantages of the subtractive method over the additive process are twofold: It makes possible a full-color reproduction on paper and dispenses with the prior need for expensive and cumbersome viewing equipment. [1|2|16|1470]

The subtractive process
Private collection of Robert Hirsch
The subtractive process allows almost any color to be formed by removing certain colors from white light while permitting other colors to pass. The subtractive primary colors in photography are cyan, magenta, and yellow. They are the complementary colors of the additive primaries: red, green, and blue. Black is formed when equal amounts of all three of the subtractive primaries overlap.

2.17. Primary Pigment Colors

When working with pigments – as in painting – instead of light, the colors are also formed subtractively. The different colors of pigments absorb certain wavelengths of light and reflect others back for us to see. However, there is a major distinction between the primary colors of pigment and those of light, as painters generally use red, blue, and yellow for their primary colors. These colors cannot be mixed from any other colors and in theory are used to make all other colors, with the assistance of black-and-white. For example, red and yellow make orange, red and blue make purple, and blue and yellow make green. Green, an additive primary, is not a primary color in paint because it must be made from two colors: blue and yellow. In practice, it is necessary to use secondary and intermediate colors when mixing other colors, such as green and violet, because artist’s pigment is not “pure color.” The wavelengths of its minor components are different from the dominant wavelength and therefore affect the color produced. [1|2|17|1471]

2.18. The Subtractive Assembly Process: Heliography

In Ducos du Hauron’s patented subtractive method, known as Heliochromy, three negatives were made behind separate filters of violet, green, and orange-red (the current modern subtractive filters had not yet been established). From these negatives, positives were made and assembled in register to create the final print, known as a Heliochrome. These positives contained carbon pigments of blue, red, and yellow, which Ducos du Hauron believed to be the complementary colors of the filters that were used to form the colors in the original exposure. Color prints or transparencies could be made with the assembly process, depending on whether the carbon transparencies were attached onto an opaque or transparent support. One of the first commercial subtractive assembly processes was the bichromated gelatin glue process, which was known as Trichromie and was patented by the Lumière Brothers in 1895. The assembly process is the principle used in the carbro process (see below). [1|2|18|1472]

Though the subtractive process proved to be practical, it saddled photographers with long exposure times. Ducos du Hauron reported typical daylight exposures of 1 to 2 seconds with the blue-violet filter, 2 to 3 minutes with the green, and 25 to 30 minutes behind the red filter. If the light changed during the exposure process, the color balance would be incorrect in the final result. This problem was solved in 1893, when Frederic E. Ives perfected Ducos du Hauron’s single-plate color camera. [1|2|18|1473]

2.19. The Kromskop Triple Camera and Kromskop Viewer

Ives’s apparatus, the Kromskop Triple Camera, made three separate black-and-white negatives simultaneously on a single plate through red, green, and blue-violet separation filters. Positives were made by contact printing on glass, then cut apart and hinged together with cloth strips for use on Ives’s Kromskop viewer. This viewing system employed colored filters in the same sequence as the camera, and used a system of mirrors to optically superimpose the three separations and create a color Kromogram image. Although conceptually similar to Maxwell’s additive projection process, Ives’s color images could be seen after being assembled in this viewer (the Kromogram itself consisted only of image components). While Ives’s methods did work, they were complex, time-consuming, and expensive. [1|2|19|1474]

William Sackville-Kent
Butterfly and Flowers
Ives Kromogram
Private collection of Mark Jacobs
Courtesy of Mark Jacobs Collection.
The Kromogram was the name given to the transparencies used in the Ives Kromskop for projecting “photographs in natural colors.”
Digitally reconstructed image by Victor Minakhin from original stereo glass positives.

Numerous other one-shot cameras followed, such as the Sanger Shepherd in the first decade of the twentieth century, which used black-and-white plates to simultaneously make three exposures through three separate color filters that were later combined to form a color image. Improvements followed, and these one-shot cameras were used for advertising and portrait work until the advent of multi-layered films like Kodachrome, Agfacolor, and Kodacolor. [1|2|19|1475]

E. Sanger Shepherd
1902 (ca)
Sanger Shepherd process
3 1/4 x 3 1/4 ins
Private collection of Mark Jacobs
Courtesy of Mark Jacobs Collection.
E. Sanger Shepherd got involved in color photography as an assistant to Frederic E. Ives. By the early part of the twentieth century, Sanger Shepherd was advertising his own spinoff process and camera. He continued to work on simplifying ways of making color photographs until his death in 1937.

2.20. Carbro Process

In 1855 Alphonse Louis Poitevin patented a carbon process to make prints from photographic negatives and positives by using an emulsion containing particles of carbon or colored, non-silver pigment to form the image. The original purpose of this process was not to make colored images but to provide a permanent solution to the fading and discoloration problems that plagued the early positive silver print processes. The carbro process, considered the most versatile of the carbon processes, evolved from Thomas Manly’s Ozotype (1899) and Ozobrome processes (1905). The name carbro was given to an improved version of the process in 1919 by the Autotype Company to signify that carbon tissue was used in conjunction with a bromide print (car/bro). [1|2|20|1476]

Alphonse-Louis Poitevin
Fig. 24. M. A. Poitevin
1864 (published)
Google Books
Source: "Les merveilles de la science: ou Description populaire des inventions modernes" By Louis Figuier (Paris, Furne, Jouvet et Cie, Editeurs, 1864). This engraving is in the section on "La Photographie" p. 68
Additional examples:
LL/34350 LL/34825 

Separation negatives were exposed through red, green, and blue filters and used to make a matched set of bromide prints. In the carbro process, the image is formed by chemical action when the pigmented carbon tissue is placed face-to-face with a fully processed black-and-white print on bromide paper. When the print and the tissue are held in contact, the gelatin of the tissue becomes insoluble in water in proportion to the density of the silver on the bromide print. After soaking, this sandwich is separated. The tissue is transferred onto a paper support, where it is washed until only a pigment image remains. This is repeated for each of the three-pigmented tissues, and the final print is an assemblage of cyan, magenta, and yellow (CMY) carbon tissues in register, producing a full-color print. Autotype’s tricolor carbro process produced splendid color prints from the CMY pigmented tissues. Using a bromide print created numerous advantages, including the following: (1) enlargements could be made from small-format negatives; (2) ordinary exposure light sources could be used instead of high-intensity ultraviolet; (3) contrast was determined by the bromide print; and (4) regular photographic printing controls such as burning and dodging could be used. The perfecting of the carbro process demonstrated it was possible to make full-color images from black-and-white materials and was an important step on the path towards a practical chromogenic method for making color images (see the following section, Subtractive Film and Chromogenic Development). Other variations of this three-color subtractive assembly printing method, such as the affordable Vivex process (1931 – 1939), followed. [1|2|20|1477]

Nickolas Muray
Frida Kahlo in New York
Carbro print
11 x 18 ins
Nickolas Muray Photo Archives, LLC
Courtesy of the Nickolas Muray Photo Archives and Art & Soul Studio, Seattle, WA.
Nickolas Muray was a highly accomplished commercial photographer and carbro printer. In addition to his advertising work, Muray did color celebrity portraits that included Joan Crawford, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marilyn Monroe. This formally informal rooftop portrait uses color to capture the style, mystique, and allure surrounding Frida Kahlo. The original photograph was a Kodachrome transparency in the Kodak Bantam 828 format (40 × 28 mm) that was scanned and produced as a color carbon print.

2.21. Color Halftones

The first color images to receive widespread viewing were not made by direct photographic means. They were created indirectly by applying the subtractive principles of color photography on William Kurtz’s photoengraver’s letterpress in New York in 1892. Using an early halftone process, a scene of fruit on a table was photographed, screened, and run through the press three times (a separate pass for each of the three subtractive colored inks: cyan, magenta, and yellow). The halftone process is a printing method that enables a photographic image to be reproduced in ink by making a halftone screen of the original picture. The screen divides the picture into tiny dots that deposit ink in proportion to the density of the original image tones in the areas they represent. Kurtz’s color reproductions were bound into the January 1, 1893, issue of Photographische Mittheilungen, published in Germany. Even though it still was not possible to obtain color prints from color film in an ordinary camera, this printing procedure pointed to a way in which color images could be photographically produced. [1|2|21|1478]

2.22. Dye-Imbibition Process/Dye Transfer Process

In the imbibition process, a dye image is transferred from a gelatin relief image to a receiving layer made either of paper or film. Charles Cros described this method of “hydrotypie” transfer printing in 1880 and suggested it could be used to transfer three individual dye images in register. The Hydrotype (1881) and the Pinatype (1905) were examples of the early use of this process. One of the notable, though not widely used, relief matrix processes was developed by Dr Arthur Traube and introduced in 1929 as the Uvatype, which was an improved version of his earlier Diachrome (1906) and dye mordant Uvachrome (1916) processes. The Eastman Wash-off Relief process (1935) was a refinement of the imbibition process that was replaced by the improved Dye Transfer process (1946 – 1993). The widest commercial application of the imbibition process was the Technicolor process, originally introduced as a two-color system in 1916, for producing motion-picture release prints. [1|2|22|1479]

2.23. Subtractive Film and Chromogenic Development

Between 1911 and 1914 Rudolf Fischer of Germany, working closely with Karl Schinzel of Austria, invented a color film that had the color-forming ingredients, known as color couplers, incorporated directly into it. This discovery, that color couplers could produce images by chromogenic development (see next paragraph), laid the foundation for most color film processes in use today. In this type of film, known as an integral tri-pack, three layers of emulsion are stacked one on top of another, with each layer sensitive to red, green, or blue. [1|2|23|1480]

Through the process known as chromogenic development, the color couplers in each layer of the emulsion form a dye image in complementary colors of the original subject. During chromogenic development, the dye image is made at the same time as the silver halide image is developed in the emulsion. The silver image is then bleached away, leaving only the dye, which is fixed to form the final image. The problem with the original RGB color tri-pack was that unwanted migration of the dyes between the three layers could not be prevented, causing color inaccuracies in the completed image. [1|2|23|1481]

Some black-and-white films, such as Ilford’s XP2 Super 400 or Kodak’s BW400CN, also make use of the chromogenic system to deliver various densities of black dye. Any lab that develops conventional color negative film (C-41 process) can process these products. For best results, these negatives can be printed on RA-4 paper or scanned and digitally printed. [1|2|23|1482]

In 1930, Kodak Research Laboratories hired Leopold Godowsky, Jr., and Leopold Mannes, musicians who had been experimenting with making color films in makeshift labs since they were teenagers. By 1935 they were able to overcome the numerous technical difficulties and produce the first truly successful integral tri-pack subtractive color reversal film. This film was called Kodachrome and first marketed as a 16mm movie film1. It was said, only half jokingly, that it took God and Man (Godowsky and Mannes) to solve the problem of the color couplers’ unwanted migration between the emulsion layers. Their ingenious solution to this problem was to use the color couplers in separate developers during the processing of the film, rather than build them into the film emulsion itself. [1|2|23|1483]

In Kodachrome film, only one exposure was needed to record a latent image of all three primary colors. The top emulsion layer was sensitive only to blue. Under this was a temporary yellow-dye filter that absorbed blue light, preventing it from affecting the emulsion below. This temporary yellow filter, which dissolved during processing, allowed the green and red light to pass through and be recorded in the proper emulsions below. [1|2|23|1484]

2.24. The Kodachrome Process

Kodachrome was first developed into a negative and then, through reversal processing, into a positive. During the second development, the colors of the original subject were transformed into the complementary dyes of cyan, magenta, and yellow, which formed the final color image. Then the positive silver images were bleached away and the emulsion was fixed and washed. This left a positive color image that was made up of only subtractive colored dyes, with no silver. [1|2|24|1485]

In 1936 Kodachrome was made for the 35mm still photography market. Eastman Kodak was concerned that nobody would want a tiny slide that had to be held up to the light to be seen. In a shrewd move, by 1938 the company was returning each processed slide in a 2 × 2-inch cardboard “Readymount” so that it could be projected onto a screen. At this time Kodak also introduced the Kodaslide projector, reinvigorating the Victorian-era magic lantern slide exhibition, which had been in decline. By the late 1930s the union of the 35mm camera with Kodachrome launched the modern color boom and signaled the end of the additive screen processes such as Autochrome. [1|2|24|1486]

Kodachrome was the first film to achieve the dream of an accurate, inexpensive, practical, and reliable method for making color images. The major drawbacks of Kodachrome were its slow speed (the original ISO of 8 was eventually increased to 200), its complex processing that meant the film had to be sent to a special lab, and the difficulty and expense of making prints from transparencies. Kodachrome’s legendary characteristics, which were commemorated in the naming of Utah’s Kodachrome Basin State Park as well as the 1973 popular song by Paul Simon, allowed it to reign as the benchmark in color accuracy, rendition, contrast, and grain until it finally succumbed to improved and much faster chromogenic films and digital image capture. After a 74-year run as a photography icon, Kodachrome was “retired” in 2009. [1|2|24|1487]

John Vachon
Negro Boy Near Cincinnati, Ohio
1942 (ca)
1 x 2 ins
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC.
The introduction of Kodachrome in 1936 marked the modern era in color photography and accurate, reliable, affordable, and easy-to-use color films. Kodachrome gave photographers the ability to respond in color to subject matter from new points of view and to represent previously unseen subjects and situations. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, photographers for the Farm Security Administration, including John Vachon, made some of their photographs in color, using the then revolutionary Kodachrome film in a variety of formats from 35mm to 4 × 5 inches. The complete FSA collection of 170,000 images is available at the Library of Congress.

2.25. Chromogenic Transparency Film

In 1936 Agfa released Agfacolor Neu film, which overcame the problem of migrating the color couplers by making their moleculesvery big. In this manner, they would mix easily with the liquid emulsion during the manufacturing of the film. Once the gelatin that bound them together had set, the color coupler molecules were trapped in the tiny spaces of the gelatin and unable to move. This was the first three-layer, subtractive color reversal film that had the color couplers built into the emulsion layers themselves and employed a single developer to make the positive image. This simplified process allowed the photographer to process the film. Kodak countered Agfacolor with its own version of the process, Ektachrome, in 1946. [1|2|25|1488]

  1. In 1915 Kodak patented a 2-color Kodachrome process. It consisted of two glass transparencies: one green and the other red, which when superimposed produced a limited spectrum color image. It was never marketed.



 2.1The First Color Photographs: Applied Color Processes 2.2Direct Color Process: First Experiments
 2.3The Hillotype Controversy 2.4The Additive Theory: First Photographic Image in Color
 2.5Maxwell’s Projection Process 2.6Direct Interference Method of Gabriel Lippmann
 2.7Additive Screen Processes 2.8Joly Color
 2.9Autochrome 2.10Finlay Colour Process and Paget Dry Plate
 2.11Dufaycolor 2.12Polachrome
 2.13Additive Equipment - Additive Enlargers 2.14Digital Enlargers
 2.15Television=> 2.16The Subtractive Method
 2.17Primary Pigment Colors 2.18The Subtractive Assembly Process: Heliography
 2.19The Kromskop Triple Camera and Kromskop Viewer 2.20Carbro Process
 2.21Color Halftones 2.22Dye-Imbibition Process/Dye Transfer Process
 2.23Subtractive Film and Chromogenic Development 2.24The Kodachrome Process
 2.25Chromogenic Transparency Film 2.26Chromogenic Negative Film
 2.27C-41: Chromogenic Negative Development 2.28Additional Color Processes - Silver Dye-Bleach/Dye-Destruction Process
 2.29Internal Dye Diffusion-Transfer Process 2.30The Polaroid Process: Diffusion-Transfer
 2.31Color Gains Acceptance in the Art World 2.32Amateur Systems Propel the Use of Color
 2.33Digital Imaging 2.34The Birth of Computing
 2.35The 1960s: Art in the Research Lab 2.36The 1970s and 1980s: Computers Get Personal
 2.37Digital Imaging Enters the Mainstream  

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