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Chapter 7. Beyond Black and White >  Why Black and White?

Why Black and White?

Most photos today are taken in color, but that wasn’t always the case. While I’m fond of pointing out that daguerreotypes were actually color photos (in the sense that they had overall tones and were not true black and white), color photography was a long time in arriving after the first photographic images were made by Nicéphore Niépce in 1826 and Henry Fox Talbot in 1835. Some early attempts at color still photography were made by Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxell, who understood that red, green, and blue were the primary colors of light, and in 1861 photographed the same scene in black and white through a set of red, green, and blue filters. By projecting the three images on a screen with appropriately colored lamps, he reproduced the image of a tartan ribbon.

However, color imaging didn’t really catch on until Kodachrome film was introduced in 1935 and, in 1942, Kodacolor film for prints. Black-and-white images were still favored by amateurs and professionals through the 50s and most of the 60s. Amateurs liked B/W because it was less expensive than making color prints and more convenient than showing color slides. It was only after inexpensive high speed color photofinishing became available that color prints began to take over.


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