Autochromes Lumière

Additive Synthesis

Interdisciplinary Scientific Investigations
The principles of trichromatic photography developed out of interdisciplinary research conducted in the first half of the 19th century. For the most part, it is in the domains of physics and physiology that we find many of the founding works of the scientists involved. Of these, it was the work of the Englishman, Thomas Young, who first demonstrated the trichromatic foundation of vision (1801); the German, Hermann Ludwig von Helmholtz, who first defined the notion of primary colour; and the Scottsman, James Clerk Maxwell, who studied the mixture of colours (1855) and first conceived of "colorimetric space." It was Maxwell, with the help of the English photographer Thomas Sutton, who carried out the first additive projection of a trichromatic photograph, using a device made up of three illuminated lanterns equipped with blue, green and red filters.

A few years later, in 1869, the Frenchmen Charles Cros and Louis Ducos du Hauron simultaneously, but independently, defined the basis of colour photography. Though they diverged on a certain number of theoretical points, these two contributions would come to play a determining role, not the least of which was to raise awareness of the stakes - scientific, as well as economic - associated with this new field of activity. 

The Trichromatic Method Applied to Colour Photography
The trichromatic method, as it was first put forth during the second half of the 19th century, rested on the application of a principle that was contested by a part of the scientific community at the time. This principle consisted in the reproduction of the widest possible range of colours through a variable combination of three basic colours, to which we attribute the status of primary colours. It should be noted here that the context of the era was marked by a partial understanding of the physics of light and by the lack of anything that could be considered a mature photographic science. The first trichromatic processes were pursued with the same materials and mechanisms that had made the invention of photography possible. It was a matter of privileging a pragmatic approach, founded on measures borrowed from the scientific method and utilising the contributions of experimentation.

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