This project explores the technological hybridity of early color formats against medium-specific definitions of photographic or cinematic images. It argues for the centrality of female photographers as early practitioners and innovators of color photography in the United States and England. It claims that color featured prominently in the Victorian colonial imaginary to construct orientalizing views of colonial subjects.
Color photography has been largely excised from the art historical discourse and history of photography whose focus on artists, stylistic attributes, and technological periodization has contributed to its marginalization and the elision of the transmediality of color in the early twentieth century. I locate early color photographic technologies (1890-1920) within contemporaneous scientific and social debates around color which reveal the crucial epistemological shift that considered color a relational phenomenon to an empirical one. As a co-production of the body and machine technologies configured in time and space, the color image is an event. At the intersection of photography, color, and gender discourses, female photographers were able to marshal the gendered biases of color in order to establish expressive modes and photographic careers in the new color medium. The gendering of color also helped to define orientalist photography and film of the British colonial era, particularly that of India. Comparing color in orientalist depictions of India and the use of color in Indian photographic miniatures compels us to reconsider the links between technology and subjectivity as well as modernity and colonialism. This dissertation seeks not only to rewrite the history of early color photography but to reconfigure understandings of the relationships between modernity, technology and art.