Saturday, January 31, 2004

The transition to colour was incredibly gradual

David Sucher links to some truly magnificent colour photographs (which use up lots of bandwidth and will take a long time to download if you are using dialup) of Chicago in the 1940s and 1950s and then observes that his psychological reaction is to the fact that they are in colour

The past was in color

In color.

That's probably one of the harder things to grasp, at least for those of us who grow up during the transition from B&W to color images. You keep thinking that Ric Burns was society's art director.

What I see as an interesting point here is actually the way David sees himself as someone who grew up during the transition from black and white to color images, and that he presumably thinks that people who are either older or younger (but especially younger, I suspect) did not grow up during the transition from black and white to colour, and that other people grew up in the era or black and white or the era of colour. That is, the implied point is that there was a moment (or at least a fairly brief period) of a few years in which most of the transition occurred. And I think that this is false. I might (and I think do) concede that there was a psychological moment in which people made the transition, and I will get to this a little more later.

When you look into this a little, it is possible to find brilliant, clear, full colour photographs from the last decades of the 19th century. The reason for this is relatively simple, which is that if you can take black and white photographs you can take colour photographs. Just split the image into three, run one through a blue filter, one through a green filter, and one through a red filter and record each image on a piece of film (or actually, at the time, on a glass negative). You have three images. Given those three images you have everything you need to print a colour photograph. However, designing a suitable process through which you can print that colour photograph clearly was initially a little tricky, and 19th century colour photographs could not be readily and accurately printed in the 19th century. However, they can be printed today, and I have seen some spectacular colour photographs from the 19th century, which are as clear and beautiful as photographs taken any time since. (In particular, I once saw a wonderful collection of photographs of Russia, but I cannot find any online).

What we would now see as more conventional colour photography in which there was a single colour negative came later. Two colour processes were developed in the 1920s and full three colour processes were pretty much perfected by the mid 1930s. This applied for both still cameras and motion pictures. But, of course, as David observed, colour did not take over immediately. Colour was initially more expensive, but black and white was still widely used for stylistic as well as cost reasons, and simply because black and white processes led to longer lasting, more stable photographs. (One reason we are not used to seeing old colour photographs is that black and white pictures have stood the test of time better). And in the world of movies, colour was well and truly available by the end of the 1930s, and many colour films from this time survive to this day, and look as good as ever.

But once colour film-making was available, did black and white go away? The answer is no. Black and white motion pictures were made in large numbers until the mid 1960s, although the percentage of black and white as a percentage of all pictures gradually dropped, but black and white was used if the film-makers thought it was the right look for the mood of the film. After that, black and white went away. But it didn't do so suddenly. After about 1968, there were essentially no black and white films made by Hollywood studios any more. Similarly, black and white was used widely in portrait photography into the 1960s and was used almost exclsively for artistic photographs into the 1970s, but then this also went away, although not as completely as for the situation with movies.

Why did this gradual transition become sudden in the late 1960s? Well, there is of course one medium that I haven't mentioned that also went from black and white to colour, and that is of course television. The mid to late 1960s was the time when (in the US, at least) people bought colour televisions in large numbers. This transition was different from the previous transitions in one very big way: which was that the consumer had to buy new equipment and spend a lot of money. Colour televisions were expensive. Buying one was psychologically a big thing, in a way that (for instance) colour movies were not psychologically a big thing. People who had spent all this money and bought them really did not want to watch old fashioned black and white programs on them that they could have equally well watched on the old television. (Colour movies and colour still photography did not require new equipment or additional expenditure). Black and white television programming was perceived as something that was "old fashioned" and ratings for black and white programs dropped compared to ratings for colour programming.

And the attitude went further than just television. Suddenly black and white photography in all forms was also perceived as "old fashioned". People did not want to watch black and white movies, or to take black and white phtographs. Whereas black and white cinema had existed alongside colour cinema for more than three decades, it suddenly did so no longer. Audiences suddenly started avoiding black and white films, and studios stopped making them. (Black and white films are still made very occasionally, but studios are extremely reluctant to approve them. Only the most influential of directors have the clout to get them made). Similarly, people rather dramatically switched to colour for still photography, even though colour still photography had also been around for more than three decades. When people think about the time when the "transition to colour" took place, it is this psychological moment that usually comes to mind, whereas in reality the transition to colour has been going on as a gradual process since the 19th century, and we are not entirely there and it continues to go on. (A relatively recent step was the transition to the printing of colour photographs in newspapers). Everyone who has lived during the last century has lived through the "transition to colour". However, there was only one psychological moment in which it was really noticeable. And that was in about 1968.

Update: Brian Micklethwait linked to this post from Samizdata, and in the comments section hylas has pointed me to the photographs of Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, which are indeed the photographs I was thinking of. I made a slight mistake in terms of the dates: these photographs are mostly from the first and early second decades of the 20th century. The details of the process, which I have got right in essentials but wrong in some fairly minor details, are here. And rather than attempting to print them, Prokudin-Gorskii displayed them by projecting red, green, and blue images onto the same screen. Although this was most ingenious, there was nothing that at least in theory could not have been done several decades earlier. (In fact, the "lantern projector" illustrated dates from 1889, which suggests that somebody was at least trying to project full colour images 15 years earlier. As to where the actual images being projected came from, that is another question).
I did not win

I have just not won an award for Best Overseas Australian blog. The result in this category was in fact a tie between Anthony Hicks and Tim Dunlop, so I know that at least two people got more votes than I did. However, both are good blogs, so congratulations to Anthony and Tim. Ubersportingpundit (which I write for) was voted "Best South Australian blog", which is quite intriguing given that two of its four writers are based in London and one in Sydney, and the blog is hosted in the US.
Slight personal update

I am staying with a friend for a couple of days, and unfortunately I forgot to bring my mobile phone charger. My phone's battery is now flat. This means that if anyone is trying to call me I am ignoring you. I simply haven't got the message yet. If you want to contact me please send e-mail or check whether I am online for instant messaging. (I am mjj12@btopenworld on MSN or alternately I am mjj122 on yahoo).

Thursday, January 29, 2004


I am stressed, and I think that writing about sport relaxes me somewhat. Hence this piece on what happens in English football when it snows, this one on Zimababwe's rain abandoned one day match against Australia, and this one on the selection issues of the Australian cricket team.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Different people working for the same organisation

Yesterday afternoon, I found myself walking through Waterloo Station. Of an afternoon, the station contains lots of newsagents, bookshops, and other people selling the Evening Standard, London's evening newspaper. Outside one of the newsagents I saw a poster advertising the main headline

Okay, this happens once in a while. Cambridge University scientists have backed down from their intention to do some experiments on monkeys as part of an attempt to find a cure for Alzheimers disease, due to threats of violence from "animal rights" activists. My sympathy is with the scientists. I think it is appalling that they have to live in fear of violence, and if progress towards a cure for Alzheimers is genuinely hindered because of this, it is a backwards step. From just looking at the poster, it seems that the Evening Standard is more with the protestors. This is a shame.

However, what happens if you look at the actual newspaper?

Yes, that interpretation is much more to my taste. But my goodness. The various bits of the Evening Standard do not seem well coordinated.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004


I have a piece on pricing for WiFi access and the general cluelessness of BT over at Samizdata.
Oscar nominations

The academy award nominations have been announced. I normally write a list of predictions in the major categories and then see how I do, but this year I have been too stressed to do that. Still, just one comment.

This applies to the rules and tactics of the acting categories. The rule is that all performances are eligible for both the lead and supporting categories but the same performance may not be nominated in both categories. In the case that a performance gets enough votes to be nominated in both categories, it is excluded from the category in which it got the least votes. Also, the same actor may not be nominated twice in the same category. Again, if enough votes are achieved for a double nomination, the one with the least votes is excluded. What is allowed is for the same actor to be nominated in both lead and supporting categories but for different performances.

So how do voters decide whether to nominate a performance as lead or supporting. Well, usually it is fairly obvious, but the studio releasing the film normally campaigns for a particular category. Advertisements in the Hollywood trade papers normally state the category that is being campaigned for, and generally the studio hopes that their advice is followed. Sometimes studios will promote performances for what looks like the wrong category if they think that the chances of being nominated or winning in that category are better.

Things get complicated when an actor has two strong performances that are being considered for awards in the same year. Often, the studios in question will campaign for one performance for the supporting category and the other for the lead category, even if they are both really leads. Also, if there are multiple performances in the film that are considered awards worthy, then one may be chosen arbitrarily as the "lead" performance and another the "supporting performance". (For instance, Julianne Moore was campaigned for for Best Supporting Actress last year for The Hours, although Nicole Kidman's performance (which ultimately won) actually featured less screen time and was arguably the supporting performance. Things are obviously complicated further when a film features multiple lead performances by actors of the same sex, rather than one man and one woman).

Anyway, what am I getting at. Well, the point is that all this can backfire. Scarlett Johansson was praised for her performances in two films Lost in Translation and Girl with a Pearl Earring. Both are obviously lead performances, but in their wisdom Focus Features (the specialty division of Universal Pictures) chose to campaign for Best Supporting Actress, presumably because they thought the competition was less. Most other awards have nominated Johansson for Best Actress, despite the campaign. Bafta rules allow more than one person to be nominated in the same category, and Johansson received two Bafta nominations for Best Actress, one for each film. The Golden Globes have separate categories for "Drama" and for "Musical and Comedy", and Johansson received one nomination in each category for these. However, for the Academy Awards, she received no nominations. Presumably her votes in the Best Actress category were split between the two films, and her votes for Lost in Translation were split between the two categories. This is a shame, because she was wonderful in both movies, especially Lost in Translation. (In the past she has been wonderful in The Man who Wasn't There and Ghost World, too. Still, I nominate Focus features for campaigning fuck-up of the year.

Some comments on the other nominations at some time between now and the actual awards. That's the big instance of someone who deserved it not being nominated this year. The good thing, I suppose, is that the most egregious non-nomination of recent years (Naomi Watts for Mulholland Drive has been kind of made up for, as Watts has been nominated for Best Actress for 21 Grams.

Monday, January 26, 2004

And there is an international one. Cool

create your own visited country map
or check out these Google Hacks.

Update: These two pictures weren't always loading properly, mainly because of the fact that they were bitmaps and the download was sometimes timing out. Or perhaps the server they were coming from was just overloaded or flakey. In any event, I have converted them to jpegs and they are now hosted on my ISP's server, so things should work properly now.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Is it right to include states where I have merely changed planes at the airport?

A similar "countries of the world" map would be cool, too.

create your own visited states map
or write about it on the open travel guide

(Link via Sasha Volokh).
A brief redirection

I have a tiny piece over at ubersportingpundit observing that it is the national day of both India and Australia. (At least, it is in both India and Australia. January 26 has not quite arrived yet in London, which is good because this is my obligatory posting for January 25. God bless the world for being round). There may not be anything else posted today. I have one or two pieces of what I think are good stuff in the works, but I have other things to do for now.

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