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August 16: Gabriel Lippman and Color Photography

Lawrence Bush
August 15, 2016

180px-Gabriel_Lippmann2Gabriel Lippman, who won the 1908 Nobel Prize in Physics for his theoretical work on the photographic reproduction of color, was born in Hollerich, Luxembourg on this date in 1845. A professor physics at the Sorbonne, Lippman mobilized the interference phenomenon in light waves (in which two waves superpose to form another wave of different or identical amplitude) to succeed, as he wrote to the French Academy of Sciences in 1891, “in obtaining the image of the spectrum with its colors on a photographic plate whereby the image remains fixed and can remain in daylight without deterioration.” By the following year, he had succeeded in producing color images of a stained-glass window, a group of flags, a bowl of oranges topped by a red poppy, and a multicolored parrot. His process foreshadowed laser holography (three-dimensional photography). Among his other innovations was the coelostat, an astronomical tool he invented that compensated for the Earth’s rotation to allow regions of the sky to be photographed without blurring from motion.

Lippmann_photo_flowers“Life is short and progress is slow.” —Gabriel Lippman

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.