BC - before Color Photography How They Put the Sparkle in Those Shining Eyes

By Marien, Mary Warner | The Christian Science Monitor, October 31, 1996 | Go to article overview
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BC - before Color Photography How They Put the Sparkle in Those Shining Eyes


Marien, Mary Warner, The Christian Science Monitor


The Painted Photograph, 1839-1914 Origins, Techniques, Aspirations

Heinz K. Henisch and Bridget A. Henisch

The Pennsylvania State University Press 242 pp., $75 When photography was disclosed to the world in 1839, its astonishing fidelity to the observable world seemed flawed in one important respect. The medium did not record the various hues of nature, but did its documentation in black and white. Within photography's first decade, methods were devised to add color to the medium. As its title indicates, "The Painted Photograph" surveys the theory and practice of 19th- and early 20th-century colored photography. In lesser hands, this study would be a listless tome, of interest only to specialists. But as they demonstrated in their 1994 book, "The Photographic Experience," Heinz and Bridget Henisch know how to harvest lively quotations and intriguing images. The Henisches' search for incident and anecdote is rewarding. Who would not find it interesting to learn that the early photographs on metal, known as daguerreotypes, sometimes had tiny holes drilled into them where the sitter's eyes would be seen? These miniscule indentations formed small reflective cones which cast back light, making the sitter's eyes sparkle. Yet, as much as 19th-century viewers desired photographs, they were hesitant to bury the photograph under layers of applied pigment. Especially on daguerreotypes, whose silvery surface manifests myriad details, light retouching was preferred to hiding the image under thick retouching. Because paper photographs, unlike daguerreotypes, were produced from negatives, the opportunities for retouching were doubled. Photographers groaned that people who wanted to be photographed as nature made them were never satisfied with the unretouched result.

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