True Colors

Contrasting black and white with color photographs by Smithsonian Institution photographers.

Color photography is so prevalent in our everyday lives that it’s easy to forget that not long ago it wasn’t nearly as ubiquitous. While major advances in technologies behind color photography were made in the late 19th century, Smithsonian photographers didn’t start using color film with regularity until the 1970s. Black and white film remained the primary format used by Smithsonian photographers through the 1990s due to its lower cost, however requests for color negatives or color slides were also accommodated, and often all three were used to document an artifact, event, or exhibit. Black and white film was also often used in duplication efforts, as black and white was a requirement for submission to many publications. Today, photo editing software and apps provide us with endless post-processing options, but in the very recent past, that was a pretty costly endeavor. Below are examples of images or events shot by SI photographers in multiple formats.  

Spacecraft Lunar Module LM-2:

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National Air and Space Museum exhibit in the Arts and Industries Building, March 1972, by Jack Scott, Acc. No. 11-009, 72-4528.

Visit of Queen Elizabeth II:

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July 8, 1976, photo on left by Richard Hofmeister, photo on right by unidentified photographer, Acc. No. 11-009, 76-8526-11 and 76-8868.

Secretary S. Dillon Ripley:

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Examining bird specimens at National Museum of Natural History, 1966/1972, Acc. Nos. 11-008 and 11-009, OPA-944R2-C and 72-7729.

First Ladies Hall:

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First Ladies Hall, East Room, at the National Museum of History and Technology, now known as the National Museum of American History, September 8, 1971, by Richard Farrar, Acc. No. 11-009, 71-942.

Painting of James Smithson:

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