Reality/surreality/hyperreality. Mechanical vs art. Looking back from digital colour and high levels of control. Capturing images is now so easy. And possibilities of control at shooting and processing stages so broad. Often lose the aesthetics and meaning.
Early photography: pictorialism to modernism
Early colour photography processes produce a feeling of nostalgia for a by-gone leisurely time. As in monochrome photography this ‘elite impressionist aesthetic’ can be enhanced through for example use of chiaroscuro and light, smearing vaseline on the lens, adding brushstrokes or scratches to the film in development process. In colour photography particularly the aesthetic is also partly because of inherent technical limitations of early equipment and processes:
- Lens aberrations and distortions in perspective
- Chemicals were unstable, inconsistent and less sensitive leading to colour shifts, grain, limited tonality and dynamic range and requiring long exposure times and hence shallow depth of field and blurring. Effect of long exposures while model tries to be still so get selective movement blur? Giving the reflective feel?
- Fragile plates and scratches that add to the feeling of human frailty and inevitable passage of time.
- Edges of the plates? burning and fade?
Processes like hand-colouring and tinting, coupled with the blurriness of the original black and white image give a de-saturated dreamy look. The leisurely feel is enhanced by the very long exposures needed to produce multiple plates in different colours that are then combined. Photographing any action was not possible, and requires shallow depth of field with much of the image dreamily blurred. Grain, scratches and other imperfections are further exaggerated with fragility of glass plates and the nature of pigments and chemicals used.
Colour photography techniques
- hand colouring of black and white prints
- monochrome tinting through use of dyes and pigments at the development stage: cyanotypes, carbon prints and gum bichromate prints. They use pigments and bichromated colloids (viscous substances like gelatin or albumen made light-sensitive by adding a bichromate) that harden when exposed to light and become insoluble in water. The resulting prints are characterized by broad tones and soft detail, sometimes resembling paintings or drawings.
- oil process
- 3-colour process
- Autochrome 1907-1935: 3 colour process using potato starch. Soft focus, pointillist grain. Slow process if you want to keep exposures under control.
Heinrich Kuhn pictorialism
Heinrich Kuhn autochrome technique
Kuhn, Steiglitz and Steichen
Paul Strand modernism
Colour film photography: 1970s to contemporary
see also: Stephen Shore
Lomography is a genre of photography, involving taking spontaneous photographs with minimal attention to technical details. Lomographic images often exploit unpredictable non-standard optical traits of cheap toy camera (such as light leaks and irregular lens alignment), and non-standard film processing techniques, for aesthetic effect.
Lomography is named after the Soviet-era 35 mm LOMO LC-A Compact Automat camera cameras produced by the state-run optics manufacturer Leningradskoye Optiko-Mekhanicheskoye Obyedinenie (LOMO) PLC of Saint Petersburg. This camera was loosely based upon the Cosina CX-1 and introduced in the early 1980s. In 1992 the Lomographic Society International was founded as an art movement by a group of Viennese students interested in the LC-A camera and who put on exhibitions of photos. The art movement then developed into the Austrian company Lomographische AG, a commercial enterprise who claimed “Lomography” as a commercial trademark.
See their website: https://www.lomography.com
But lomography is now a genericized trademark referring to the general style that can be produced with any cheap plastic toy camera using film. Similar-looking techniques can be achieved with digital photography. Many camera phone photo editor apps include a “lomo” filter. It is also possible to achieve the effect on any digital photograph through processing in software like Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom or Analog FX Pro. The lomography trend peaked in 2011.
Because of its ease of use, it has been used in participatory photographic activism because it is easy to use eg by children in slums of Nairobi.