View Full Version : Colour Photography in WWII

Ron Tucker
5-Feb-2005, 10:16
Why was their little or no Colour Photrography during WWII

tim atherton
5-Feb-2005, 10:36
there was

there were a whole series of colour motion picture footage shot of WWII including D-Day by a whole crew under Ford - much of this was thought lost but was tracked down a few years ago at Navy warehouse (Ford's D-Day combat camera team lost cameren in action on D-Day I think) As well as D-Day it included bombing missions and the pacific campaigns. Spielberg based his Saving Private Ryan footage on this, including the "old" colour pallette of the landing scenes.

CBC in Canada just ran a series, Canadians at War in Colour - or something like that. Both motion picture and stills from WWII (actually they started with work from 1936 I think showing WWI veterans returnign to France - but it covered everythign, trainign, troop transportation, campaigns etc).

There actually is/was quite a lot out there. From what I have read, much of the officially shot colour work was suppressed by the authorities during the war because it was deemed "too realistic" - it then langusihed in storage. The Official view of the war was in B&W.

At around the time Private Ryan came out the New Yorker ran a very good piece on the historians who tracked down the "lost" D-Day footage. PBS ran a (two part?) programme on WWII in Colour as well, using much of the footage and stills.

tim atherton
5-Feb-2005, 10:46

for one small link

Bill Jefferson
5-Feb-2005, 11:02
Agfa was working on color filmin the 20's, some film was shot of hitler and was siezed by the Army during ww2

Struan Gray
5-Feb-2005, 12:40
The BBC had a multi-part series on colour film shot in WWII, and I think they may have made a sequal too. This may be the PBS series Tim referred to.

The Agfa colour film is usually said to have been only available to an elite within Germany, but a fair bit seems to have trickled through to amateurs in Sweden, albeit wealthy ones. There are colour photos of the German logistics operations to support N. Norway, as well as wartime amatuer shots and footage taken by Swedish families in the Baltic states. Sweden was a special case (it was the only country outside the Reich allowed to buy coated lenses too), which reflected the deep links between Swedish and German science and industry, as well as the personal enthusiasm of Nazi leaders like Goering.

Recently there has been a lot of interest in Walter Genewein, the German chief accountant of the Lodz Ghetto. He not only got hold of and used colour film, but entered into a long correspondance with Agfa scientists about how to improve the emulsions, all the while photographing the exploitation and outright destruction of the ghetto's inhabitants. Banal evil writ large.

John Kasaian
5-Feb-2005, 12:57
I've seen some color footage from WW2 and I found it quite a bit more dramatic than most of the B&W stuff. Oddly quite the opposite of how contemporary color portraits kind of leave me cold whereas B&W portraits somehow seem more genuine to me. The WW2 color appears (to me anyway) to capture reality better and that might be one reason why ww2 is 'officially' B&W---color was (again, IMHO)just to emotion evoking. What is interesting is that the color seemed pretty good. I don't know if what I saw was digitally restored or enhanced or not, but a lot of the footage didn't look orange (in which case any similarity to reality would be distractingly abstract). It would be interesting to hear what WW2 vets have to say and better yet, what they remember.

Alex Hawley
5-Feb-2005, 14:49
It seems there was more color shot with movie film than with still film. One reason may be that color film in those days was very slow, about ASA 10 I think. Movie crews were typically more highly trained, many having came from the business. Combat photographers with still cameras may not have had any professional experience before the war. I would also suspect that color processing labs were not nearly as plentyful and available.

Emmanuel BIGLER
5-Feb-2005, 15:15
There are some nice WWII kodachromes from Capa ; e.g. images taken in Sicily in 1943.
Some of these images were reprinted in "Le Monde 2" last year and the quality was excellent.

Technically the French Autochrome plates by the Lumière brothers already existed since 1903 and delivered astonishing images. A lot of colour Autochrome plates were recorded during the first half of the XX-st century but I assume that during WWII either the Lumière factory was closed or photographers had other priorities than using an equivalent ISO 1 glass plate just for the luxury of colour images. Exposure time of one second in bright sunshine was probably not the best recording medium for war correspondents. So for autochromes the situation was even worse than other colour film since you could probably not even have your autochromes processed at all in occupied France.

Emmanuel BIGLER
5-Feb-2005, 15:47
Well the arguments of low sensiivity and glass plates are not good if we refer to this collection of autochromes taken during WW I on the battlefied :
http://www.mediatheque-patrimoine.culture.gouv.fr/fr/archives_photo/visites_guidees/autochromes.html (http://www.mediatheque-patrimoine.culture.gouv.fr/fr/archives_photo/visites_guidees/autochromes.html)

My understanding is that at the end of the 1930's Autochrome plates were no longer used by photographers. Too expensive and put in a severe competition with new colour film products like kodachrome.

tim atherton
5-Feb-2005, 16:13
What was interesting about the Canadians at War in COlour series was that from about 1937/8 onwards through WWII while some was official War Office footage and stills, how much of the colour footage and stills was either home movies or home snaps in colour. More training and troop movements than actual combat - though some of the aftermath of combat. But just like now, there seemed to be a number of soldiers who - like us - were photo enthusiasts. They were taking colour home movies and shooting some colour film - using the latest thing, just like photo enthusiasts today. And how there are photo-geek soldiers in Iraq with the latest digi Nikon SLR and a laptop.

There was also colour footage from Atlantic convoys shot by a Hollywood film on a Canadain warship crew shooting a movie, but filming a real attack on the convoy by a U Boat. I think in that case the cinematographer was shooting B&W for Hollywood - but had his own camera with him shooting colour for himself.

David Richhart
5-Feb-2005, 16:44
Not exactly battlefields, but the government was certainly using color technology before WWII... Explore the links from this webpage and check out the color photographs of the FSA

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/fsachtml/fsowhome.html (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/fsachtml/fsowhome.html)

The photographs of genuine "Rosie the Riveters" are especially fascinating...

Alex Hawley
5-Feb-2005, 16:56
Was John Ford's "Wake Island" shot in color? I can't remember. I know he did it himself with a hand-held 16mm. Got wounded too. That was where he lost his eye.

tim atherton
5-Feb-2005, 22:45
some here

click on the Multimedia sections

http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/0,1518,339728,00.html (http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/0,1518,339728,00.html)

Here's some stuff from WWI (often colorized)

http://www.jmcolberg.com/weblog/archives/001278.html#001278 (http://www.jmcolberg.com/weblog/archives/001278.html#001278)

http://www.stern.de/politik/historie/index.html?id=530477&nv=fs&cp=1 (http://www.stern.de/politik/historie/index.html?id=530477&nv=fs&cp=1)

David F. Stein
5-Feb-2005, 23:30
Thanks, Tim, Emmanuel and others. Interesting stuff. Also, I wasn't aware how John Ford "earned" his eye patch.

Mark Sampson
7-Feb-2005, 05:30
Consider- color reproduction on paper (or in movies) was rare and expensive in those days. The only still color film was ASA 10 Kodachrome, and only in "miniature" (non-pro) 35mm. Exposed film would probably have had to go back to the USA for processing. I think that at that time color photography was just a little ahead of the technology to deal with it.