Photochemistry Beyond Color Prints. Ciba’s R & D Center in Marly in the 1960s/70s
Intervention dans le panel The Materiality of Audiovisual Flow: Media Infrastructures and the Environment, 1950s−2020s [Panel #61]
This paper analyzes photography as a resource-intensive project of post-war industrial chemistry. It focusses on the early years of a photochemical R & D center established by the Swiss firm Ciba in Marly (Fribourg) in the mid-1960s. The Marly facilities became part of Ciba’s association with other European (photo)chemical factories to produce an in-house invention on an industrial scale: a positive-to-positive photographic color paper intended for professional photographers (later marketed as Cibachrome). Yet, Ciba’s photochemical branch was conceived to be more than an enterprise in color print materials. Drawing on the firm’s internal memos, research reports, and patents, I reconstruct how Ciba allocated R & D resources at the intersection of photography-oriented product development and broader photochemical science to find ‹niches› in a photographic market controlled by well-established players. In doing so, I examine the role that the economic and environmental impact of the use of Ciba’s synthetic dyes by the Marly center played in this process. I argue that, in this context, the Marly researchers approached photography as a technical process more or less efficiently converting light and other forms of energy with the help of dyes. I show how this approach brought research on dye-sensitized photographic processes into contact with research on technical uses of solar energy gaining importance in early 1970s discourses on energy scarcity and environmentalism. My paper thus contributes to material histories of photography that treat photographs as ‹photo-objects› and elucidate the material conditions of their production, collection, and distribution. Unlike these histories, I shed light on how the materials used to create such ‹photo-objects› were conceptualized and developed by the chemical industry as part of a broader quest for photochemical profit opportunities increasingly influenced by environmental concerns.