world war 2 in color

A Short History of Color Photography

roll of colored film during world war 2

For so many years, historians and casual observers alike have observed the events of World War II through faded black and white images. What most people do not know is the fact that color photography was initially experimented with 100 years BEFORE World War II.

james clerk maxwell color photographPhotography was not invented until 1825 by the french inventor Nicephore Niepce on a polished pewter plate covered with a bit of petroleum. There were many attempts during this time at capturing color photography, however, in 1861, physicist James Clerk Maxwell would create the world's first permanent color image.

One of the early methods of taking color photos was to use three cameras. Each camera would have a color filter in front of the lens. This technique provides the photographer with the three basic channels required to recreate a color image in a darkroom or processing plant.

autochrome photography processThe first color film, Autochrome, did not reach the market until 1907 and was based on dyed dots of potato starch. The first modern color film, Kodachrome, was introduced in 1935 based on three colored emulsions. Most modern color films, except Kodachrome, are based on technology developed for Agfacolor (as 'Agfacolor Neue') in 1936. Instant color film was introduced by Polaroid in 1963.

Unfortunately, when WWII came along, color photography was still a novelty. The first batches of color film from Kodak were hard to find, leaving combat and civilian photographers with little choice but to record events in black and white.

Despite these shortcomings, photographic color technology improved throughout the 1940s and a generous number of people did record the events of WWII on colored film. Many intelligence agencies saw the value of color and therefore classified and censored many of the photos during the war years.

As the creator of WW2incolor.com, it is also my hope that this database of color images serve as a constant reminder of the trying times that swept the world in the mid 20th century. While a picture may be worth a thousand words, it is the colored ones that bring us one step closer to the reality of this historic point in time.

Source: The History of Photography