Chicago Tribune June 25, 1939
The First Spot News Color Picture
ON PAGE ONE of today’s Picture Section is a color photograph of the $4,000,000 fire which on May 11 destroyed five Chicago grain elevators and killed nine men. When The Tribune reproduced this picture in its morning editions of May 12 it became the first newspaper to illustrate a spot news storv in color.
May 12, 1939
Less than twelve hours elapsed from the time the picture was taken until it went to press, although the complicated processing of color photographs for commercial publication Is usually expected to consume anywhere from ten days to two months.
Behind The Tribune‘s ability to beat a daily deadline with an exclusive color photo lies three years of pioneer work with a color camera adapted to newspaper needs. This is the Bermphol single-exposure, natural-color camera. The Bermphol contains three plates and three color filters with mirrors to record the red, yellow, and blue primaries of all colors simultaneously.
But the process of color photography in 1936 was still considered too painstaking and delicate for outdoor photography-unless one wanted to use a color motion picture camera and wait for days while the film was sent away to be processed. The use of the Tribune camera at first was confined to the color studio, where conditions could be controled and models made up. Production was limited to illustrations for the Sunday sections and advertisements.
Then In the spring of 1937 the color cameramen went outdoors for the first time-to try for photographs of wild flowers in their natural state. They got them, remarkably real reproductions, but the effort was great to make plant life “hold the pose.” Muslin screens had to be used to prevent the wind from blowing the flowers, and wires fastened to weaving branches. Time exposures were needed, and the shutter was closed every time a leaf began to move, and then reopened.
Gradually the color staff was able to speed up its shutters and plate sensitivity by using faster emulsions on the film. This made outdoor conditions less hazardous to good work.
But the long processing of the picture-from development to engraving—still remained as an obstacle to achieving daily press tempo. The photographer had to do six things to his three plates:
(1) Develop a negative for the red, the yellow, and the blue.
(2) Make black-and-white positives of each.
(3) Apply color pigment tissues to the corresponding three prints.
(4) Transfer these single-color images to celluloid.
(5) Transfer the three images to a single sheet of paper, one exactly on top of the other.
(6) Make a finished print by another transfer.
This finished print was then sent to the color engravers, who again had to separate the three colors, one to a plate. This is done with color filters and color-sensitive emulsions in a camera which provides the correct dimensions for printing and the half-tone screen “dots” to pick up the printer’s ink. Then three copper engravings—one to reproduce each color—are made.
How could all these time-consuming operations be speeded up? The answer was to eliminate the last four steps in the color studio and the first one in the engraving room. The photographer now sent three glass positives, each marked for color, to the engraver, who made half-tone negatives. The latter now had no color separations to make.
This is what happened in reproducing the fire picture. It was taken at 1p.m. on May 11, and by 1 o’clock the next morning the first copies were on the street.