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The First Colour Photographic Image

The strategy for producing full-colour projected images was outlined by Maxwell in a paper to the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1855, published in detail in the Society’s Transactions in 1857.

In 1861 the photographer Thomas Sutton, working with Maxwell,  made three images of a tartan ribbon using red, green and blue, filters in front of the camera lens.

The set of Maxwell’s black-and-white slides  are on permanent display in the museum at Maxwell’s Birthplace.

The video is an animated demonstration of the process, using a tartan rosette, made by Prof. Ron Pethig.

 

This is a copy of the photograph of a full-colour print that was made using the VIVEX process in the early 1930s. The actual print is in the National Media Museum in Bradford.

In the VIVEX process, three images, on suitably tinted, stretchable cellophane, are overlaid. For the print, the three were produced from James Clerk Maxwell’s three original magic lantern slides. The plates used to make the slides were made with the ribbon in bright sunlight. (Details in “The Illustrated History of Colour Photography”, by Jack H Coote (Fountain Press, 1993)).

The Rumford medal of the Royal Society of London “is awarded in recognition of an outstandingly important recent discovery in the field of thermal or optical properties of matter made by a scientist working in Europe.” Maxwell was awarded the medal in 1860 “For his research on the composition of colours, and other optical properties.”

Tartan_Ribbon
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