Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Two Leopolds

When Leopold and Leopold met, they were two teenagers who enjoyed taking pictures with their Brownie cameras. The friends, Leopold Godowsky, Jr. (1900 - 1983) and Leopold Mannes (1899 - 1964), went on to become highly-accomplished professional musicians, but are best known for their collaborative effort to invent and improve the color film, Kodachrome. Along the way, their colleagues came up with nicknames for the two Leopolds: “God and Man.”

Godowsky and Mannes, ca. 1940

The two inventors shared a love of music and played violin and piano together. Godowski studied violin at UCLA, where he also studied physics and chemistry. He performed as a soloist and first violinist with the San Francisco and Los Angeles Symphonies, and despite his eventual success as an inventor, music remained his great passion, especially chamber music performed with the most illustrious musicians of his day: Heifetz, Primrose, Feuermann, and Piatigorsky.

Mannes studied music at Julliard and Harvard and earned a Guggenheim fellowship for composition.

According to the Inventors Hall of Fame:

In 1916 the pair started experimenting with the complex, awkward methods of producing color images by taking multiple black-and-white exposures through filters of various colors. For years they worked in their families' kitchens and bathrooms, often in total darkness and measured the developing times of film by whistling the last movement of Brahms' 1st Symphony at a metronomic pace of two beats per second.

By 1924, they secured financial backing* to build a dedicated laboratory and were taking out patents on their work.

Kodachrome, as conceived and realized by Godowsky and Mannes, is quite unique in one regard. In other color films, color dyes are a part of the film as it is leaves the factory. With Kodachrome, the dyes aren’t incorporated into the film until it is developed. This allows the multiple layers of emulsion making Kodachrome to be much thinner, which makes for less diffusion of light when the film is exposed while taking a picture.

To be more specific, Kodachrome film was coated with three layers of ordinary black-and-white silver halide gelatin emulsion. Each layer was sensitive to only one-third of the spectrum of colors: red, green or blue. During processing of the film, the complimentary colors cyan, magenta or yellow dye images were generated in the respective layers of emulsion as the black-and-white silver images were developed. Then the silver images were chemically removed, leaving only the three layers of dye images suspended in gelatin.

One way to identify a developed Kodachrome is to examine the emulsion side (reverse of the shiny side) of film. Because of the process unique to Kodachrome the images will stand out in relief, compared to other color films. For this and other reasons, successful digital scanning of Kodachrome film is more challenging. Often, the scanned Kodachrome image will take on a bluish cast.

Photographers recognized several desirable characteristics of Kodachrome including greater contrast, blacker blacks, more saturated reds, and pleasing skin tones. Also, for archival purposes, Kodachrome had a much longer lifespan than other color films which would deteriorate in quality relatively quickly.

Both men were active in music, both during and after their time devoted to the invention of Kodachrome. In 1930, Leopold Godowsky married the younger sister of George Gershwin, Frances Gershwin, who was a sculptor and painter. But Godowsky stuck with the film research in the 1950s as he improved the process for Kodak from his own lab in Westport, Connecticut.

Leopold Godowsky and Frances Gershwin

Leopold Mannes continued his work in music as a pianist and composer of musical scores, in addition to serving as president of Mannes College of Music, founded by his parents.


Gene Gable wrote a very personal tribute to Kodachrome in 2005 and does an excellent job of describing the technical aspects as well: http://www.creativepro.com/article/heavy-metal-madness-im-looking-through-you-where-did-you-go

Eric Schulmiller tells the story of the two Leopolds inventing Kodachrome and even works in a lesson in Jewish theology: http://www.forward.com/articles/134366/

"Man and God" ca. 1935

* Writing in Jewish World Review, Herb Geddul explains how the inventors secured funding for their first dedicated lab:

While on his way to perform in Europe in late 1922, Mannes made the chance acquaintance of a senior partner in the investment firm of Kuhn, Loeb and Co. and enthralled him with his enthusiastic prospects for color photography. Some months later, much to the surprise of Mannes and Godowsky, Kuhn-Loeb sent one of their junior associates, Lewis L. Strauss (30 years later to become chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission) to the Mannes apartment to view the progress on their color process. A Charlie Chaplin-like scenario ensued during which Mannes and Godowsky took turns playing Beethoven sonatas to their guest while they dashed back and forth to their darkooom/kitchen to develop their photographs. The process took an extraordinarily long time because of the cold temperature in the apartment. The final results were impressive enough, however, for Kuhn-Loeb to invest $20,000 in the process -- one of the most profitable investments the company ever made.


Related story - http://gulahiyi.blogspot.com/2011/01/kodachrome-1935-2010.html

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