Monday 8 August 2011

Soviet infrared photography

There is one gap the history of infrared photography of which I have been very conscious: the old Soviet Union. The soviets obviously had infrared film, the movie Soy Cuba made in the early 1960s made extensive use of it, and I found a NASA reference to some colour infrared film being flown on the space station.

Of course, my not reading Russian doesn't help but I have managed to track down an intriguing publication from the American military which is available to buy from the National Technical Information Service. It's a translation of a book by I B Levitin published in 1961, translated in 1967, and titled Photography by Infrared Light (approximately).

The document is described, rather oddly, as a machine translation, which has then been 'tidied up' by a human. Actually it reads quite well. The term used for the film is infrachromatic, though I don't know whether that is a literal translation: but it's a nice term.

According to the book, at that point there were three film types regularly manufactured in the USSR - Infrachrom 760, Infrachrom 840 and Infrachrom 880 - with a 720 version manufactured 'irregularly'. These were made in sheets, 35mm and 'wide film' of 19 and 33 cm width. I did a double-take over that: 33 cm is over a foot! The author notes that the number usually refers to the point of maximum sensitivity.

Agfa in East Germany also made infrared film. Eleven different types are listed, divided into khart (less sensitive more contrast) and rapid (more sensitive less contrast). [The translator notes these names are transliterated from Russian rather than being the German terms.]

The book then goes on to list foreign film types, and this list contains more types than I was aware of so I will list the manufacturers here (as shown in the document):
  • Eastman Kodak (USA)
  • Ferrania (Italy)
  • Gevaert (Belgium)
  • Guilminot (France)
  • Kodak (Great Britain)
  • Kodak-Pate (France)
  • Konishiroku (Japan)
Pate is presumably Pathé and Konishiroku Honten was the name for Konica until 1987 (see Wikipedia entry). So the Konica film was older than I realised, by a long way, and it seems Kodak in the UK made film separately from the USA at the time. Of course by the end of its life Kodak's HIE film was only made in Rochester.

Levitin's book is very technical and delves even deeper into the physics and chemistry than Clark. It perhaps deserves a wider distribution but for the moment, if you're interested, you can buy it from NTIS as document number AD663365. NTIS is worth a search anyway, for example it tells us that astronaut Gordon Cooper took infrared photos from orbit on May 16, 1963 during Mercury Spaceflight MA-9 (Faith 7). Of course, now I know about this, a Google search yields several results, explaining that his infrared shots were for meteorological purposes. What I don't know is whether these were the first infrared photographs from space ... I'll have to find out.