Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Verrill's Process for Colour Photos


Wilson's Photographic Magazine; Apr 1, 1902; 39, 544; pg. 124. Researched by Alan Schenker, digitized by Doug Frizzle, Oct. 2011

[The subjoined account of the reported discovery of a method of producing photographs in colors, by A. Hyatt Verrill, is taken from the Chicago Chronicle of March 14th, and will doubtless interest those of our readers who have not yet seen a detailed report of the discovery. As we go to press other discoveries of a similar sort are advised from Lexington, Va., and Cincinnati, Ohio. Evidently we are in for another revival of the color scheme in photography. We hope the discoverers of to-day will have better luck than "the fathers who sleep."—Ed. W. P. M.]

In his studio on the third floor of a bank building in this city A. Hyatt Verrill, son of Professor Addison E. Verrill, of Yale University, is busily engaged in developing a process in photography which if it reaches a practical stage will, in his judgment and the judgment of a number of prominent Yale men, revolutionize photographic art and invade the field of the portrait painters and the water-color artists. Young Verrill claims a new discovery in color photography that surpasses as far as his tests have demonstrated all previous results in this direction. Verrill is about thirty-two years of age and is not a professor, as some persons have designated him. He has written much for the magazines, but his great hobby is photography. Yale professors who have any special work in photography always consult him, and these professors are deeply interested in the experiments in color photography on which he is working. Five years ago this enthusiastic photographer began experimenting with the different methods which several German professors claimed they had discovered for photographing nature in its varied colorings.

In none of these experiments could he obtain satisfactory results, and, according to the statement of Mr. Verrill, made today, the German professors have been obliged to acknowledge failure in their work along this line of natural reproduction in color. Mr. Verrill went on experimenting along original lines, with the result that he turned out the past week half a dozen colored photographs taken directly from nature, and these were presented to the Connecticut Academy of Science by his father, Professor Verrill, who has taken a deep interest in his son's investigations. Some of these pictures were copies of water-color paintings of Bermuda fishes in groups, such as the angel fishes, parrot fishes and doucella. Another was a Bermuda landscape, in which the true blue and green tints of the water were well brought out, as well as the soft creamy color of an ancient stone residence at Wallingham and the natural gray of the rocks.

Mr. Verrill in discussing his discovery said: ''Whatever has been done in colored photography has been along mechanical lines up to the present time. The only thing we have to-day in the color line is the three-color half-tone which we see in many of the magazine illustrations and the transparencies used frequently by public lecturers. Neither of these is, strictly speaking, colored photography. For instance, in the three-color half-tone the negative is made by exposure through three different screens of the colors of purple, green and red. The prints are then made with three colored inks, and by the blocking out of one color by another the desired effect is secured. This is the process used in lithographing, and is a purely mechanical one. The colors secured in this way are always very brilliant and the contrasts more or less striking. It is almost impossible to get anything at all resembling natural tints in this way, even after a neutral tint is applied to the whole picture.

''The McDonough method, the only other attempt at reproducing the colors of nature, is simply used for lantern slides and transparencies and has not been successful as far as photographs are concerned. In exposing a plate for a negative of this kind one screen ruled in three colors is used. A positive is then made from this negative, and when this is thrown onto a screen of white, as in the case of a stere-opticon lecture, and passed through a screen ruled in the same three colors as that used in taking the picture the natural colors are brought out on the white surface, only, as in the case of the lithograph process, very much accentuated. The intense blue of the sky and the equal strength of the other colors in the landscape are always noticeable to an audience which has viewed these colored pictures.

''My method is to photograph direct from nature, develop my plate and print my negative on photographic paper which, after being developed and fixed, gives the exact reproduction of the scene in all its minute colorings. By my method I can get the iridescent shades of the sea shell, the blue of the sky and changing lights of the sunset as accurately, or much more so, than can be secured by a water-color artist. The more brilliant colors are the hardest to accurately reproduce by my method, the delicate shades and the gradations of color being perfectly and clearly reached in my finished pictures.

''At present my method is not available for use in photographing animals or in making portraits of life, as the exposure is too long. In this, however, I have made much progress, for when I first began to experiment it required an exposure of two or three hours to get the required result. Now an exposure in the bright sunlight of thirty minutes is all that is required. As you can see only on a very calm day is it possible to secure a landscape under the conditions, but I am still working to perfect my plan, so that in time I hope it will be practical for life subjects. To do this I must either use a lens of greater rapidity or more highly sensitized plates. The lens which I use is one which I had made to order and is a very rapid one, costing me about $150, but I find that the best results are to be obtained by working with plates rather than the lens. The plates I now use are about five times as sensitive as the ordinary plates used in photography. Some idea of this sensitiveness may be secured when I tell you an incident that occurred in taking a picture in a cave in Bermuda. In focusing for my picture there I had the owner of the cave hold a candle in front of the camera. Just before lighting my fuse as I was about to take off the cap I told the man to step back. He did not do so quickly enough, and I got a photograph of himself and the candle, the only light being from the candle itself.

"Of course I use a screen, but although this process is not a secret one I do not feel called upon at present to describe it or the development of my plate. The secret, however, of the entire process is in the emulsion on the photographic paper I use. This is my own invention, and for the present, at least, must remain a secret. It is here that I have met with some of the greatest difficulties in my work. The paper required for the emulsion should be a tough stock paper such as is used by manufacturers of the leading photographic papers. This kind of paper is necessary inasmuch as the process of developing and fixing is a long one and the paper is being wet and dried by turns for over one hour. The paper is printed when damp and the amount of changes it has to undergo is disastrous to any but the toughest kind of paper. The stock paper that I refer to is made only in Germany, and all that is sent to this country is bought and controlled by the photographic trust, so that it is impossible to obtain the stock paper until it has been treated with the emulsion of the concern which prepares the paper for the market. I have been obliged to buy this prepared paper, remove the emulsion and then apply my own emulsion in order to get anything approaching satisfactory results. This is both expensive and not always as conducive to the best work as I should wish, for the paper frequently becomes roughened by so much manipulation. It is almost impossible to secure paper that has not been treated with acids, and if these are present it spoils the work of my preparation. The emulsion that I use has to be mixed up fresh, for it has no keeping properties, so that the work on finishing pictures of this kind has to be rapidly pushed forward when begun.

"After a negative is ready for printing about two hours' work is required before a finished picture is ready. The printing is done by dull light, and it requires a great deal of experience to tell how long a time is required for the best results. Ordinary printing frames are used and when developed the prints have to be dried very quickly by artificial heat. Any little variation in the smallest detail makes a great difference with the perfection of the finished picture.

"The cost of this work is not as much as many people will at first imagine considering the amount of time required in making the prints. The finished pictures will cost about four or five times as much as ordinary prints, but of course are not to be compared from an artistic point of view.

"At present the method is only serviceable, as I said in the first part of the interview, where a long exposure can be given. It will, however, be invaluable to those who have collections of birds, minerals or other inanimate things that they wish photographed in original colors. For instance, I can photograph a painting and bring out the natural beauties of the original so that it will be impossible to detect the slightest variation. In this it will surpass water-color drawings, for there it is impossible to secure a perfect reproduction of the original. One of my first undertakings in this line will be the photographing of the famous Hyatt collection of Sandwich Island sea shells. The collection was given to Harvard by the late Alpheus Hyatt, assistant professor of archaeology of Harvard University. For many years before his death Professor Hyatt was exceedingly anxious to have a colored reproduction of the shells for illustrating purposes. The collection was such a valuable one, costing many thousands of dollars, that Professor Hyatt did not wish to trust it in the hands of the lithographers, and it was only possible to secure any colored pictures of the shells by transporting the collection to the studio of some such expert. The attachments used in this work and the cameras are very cumbersome, so that it was not expedient to undertake photographing the shells at the museum where they were on exhibition.

"The only other method would have been to have a water-color artist reproduce the colorings and then make a three-color half-tone from that. This would have been very expensive and not entirely satisfactory, for the shells are beautifully shaded from the most delicate pink to the brightest blue, many of the colors shading into each other in such a way as to give an iridescent effect.

"To obtain that effect by any colored photographic method known, or even by water-color, would be out of the question. I can now photograph this collection, and in the finished picture get all the colors as in the original shells. The method will also be largely used by persons owning valuable oil paintings, for the finished photograph will be as beautiful in color as the original picture."

Mr. Verrill stated that he did not intend to patent his discovery. "In the first place," said he, "the real secret of the process is in the formula of the emulsion, and if I patent that I must make it known at the Patent Office, where it can be seen by every amateur in the country. The patent would only protect me from professionals selling the emulsion or pictures made by this process. It would not prevent amateurs making pictures for their own use, however. Again, the entire process could not be patented, for I have combined many different processes, all of which are not original, so that would prevent my patenting the entire method. For the present both the method of taking the pictures and the formula of the emulsion I shall keep secret, although I have no fear even if I made the formula public and keep the latter a secret that anyone could get any successful results. It has taken me five years to reach this stage of partial perfection, and I am confident that it would take years for anyone to arrive at anything like success with only a part knowledge of the process. Later, however, I may make the entire process public. At present there are some imperfections, aside from the long exposure required, in the process. For instance, I have not succeeded as yet in getting a satisfactory vermilion tint. As I said, the bright reds are the hardest colors to get, but I am confident that it only means a little more experimenting before I can remedy that deficiency. It must be remembered that it is only a week since I finished my first pictures and that I have not had time since then to work out some of the weak points in the process."

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.