What we owe to James Clerk Maxwell
PHOTOGRAPHY BY LAURA DOW
James Clerk Maxwell was a Scottish scientist who revolutionised photography with the development of the RGB colour theory in 1861, which, assisted by Thomas Sutton, led him to create the world’s first colour photograph, 22 years after the invention of the medium. Applying Maxwell’s theory, we are able to reproduce the full range of the colour spectrum despite only using black and white film.
In the process, three negatives are created, each with a different coloured filter — red, green and blue — covering the lens. This restricts the wavelengths of the light reaching each negative. The resulting images can then be combined either in the darkroom or, as I have done, digitally, with each negative making up a single channel in a typical RGB colour space file.