Gaston Apers (1911-2000)
Photo Artist
Gaston Apers 1949.  Photo Courtesy of Kenny Apers
Left:  The Apers Married on September 20, 1933. Right:  School in Germany Where Apers Studied Color Photography, 1949.  
Photos Courtesy of Kenny Apers
Apers Teaching Photography Students and Photographing with View Camera 1952.  Photos Courtesy of Kenny Apers
In an effort to create more realistic images, photo artists began hand coloring monochrome photographs soon after the daguerreotype was invented in
1839.  Swiss artist Johann Baptist Isenring used a mixture of gum arabic and pigments, fixed on the surface of the daguerreotype with heat.  Later, hand
coloring was used with successive photographic innovations, from albumen and gelatin silver prints to lantern slides and transparency photography.
The golden age of hand colored photography took place between 1900 and 1940. Hand colored photographs became popular among the middle classes in
the United States and Europe as stylish gifts for weddings and as holiday and vacation souvenirs.

Aniline dyes, synthetic dyes originally produced for textiles, were first used to dye albumen prints and glass transparency photographs in Germany in the
1860s.  Hand coloring with dyes required extraordinary skill and was labor intensive.  Color printing advanced in 1903 with the invention of the Pinatype
process by Leon Didier.  The firm Meister Lucius & Bruning, later known as Hoechst AG, acquired the patent in 1905 and commercialized the technique.  
The firm manufactured and sold kits with the specialized supplies needed to make color prints from color separation negatives using a dye transfer

Gaston Apers of Belgium started his photography business in 1937.  His granddaughter Kenny Apers said "he colored black and white photographs and  
was one of the first to paint on the negative to do corrections. ....he mastered the art of making people look more young and beautiful."

Apers worked with the Hoechst "Pina" dye kit shown in the above photo.  The dyes in the small bottles spanned a rainbow of colors.  The labels include
the German names Brillantrot, Stahlblau, Pyronin, Zitronengelb, Dunkelblau, Lindengrun, Braun, Himmelblau, Grunlich Blau, Smaragdgrun, Lichtrot,
Schokoladebraun, Thioninblau, Violettrot, Violett, Scharlach, Tiefschwarz, Rotlich Blau, Fleischfarbe, Blaurot, Rotbraun, Blauschwarz, Thioflavin, Blattgrun,
Kastanienbraun, Dunkelbraun, and Goldgelb.  Pina dyes represented several dye classes that gave excellent results:  the " Mikado dyestuffs " from
p-nitrotoluenesulphonic acid; the soluble azo dyestuffs derived from dehydrothiotoluidine, Primuline, or their substitution product; natural Carmine; the
sulphonic acids of Induline and Nigrosine; Naphthazine Blue; certain of the diamine dyestuffs (e.g., Diamine Pure Blue, Dianil Blue, Dianil Yellow, Dianil
Garnet); and "arylido-anthraquinonesulphonic acids" or their derivatives.

Apers preferred the hand coloration technique rather than the semi-automated Pinatype process.  His son, Marc Apers, gave the following information
about the technique:

The powders were pre-dissolved in distilled water (I think that a drop of acetic acid was added for better conservation) and kept as a concentrated liquid dye,
then significantly diluted before each use. This diluted and very transparent dye was then applied on black and white photos on wet Baryta paper, in order to
keep it moist to prevent the dye from being absorbed too quickly by the gelatinous layer of the paper.

It was applied with fine pencils and soft paintbrushes and soft brushes of weasel hair that when wet, could form a very fine, sharp tip that allowed for very
precise work. Depending on the intended effect, shortly after the application it was then removed with moistened cotton plugs. These treatments were repeated
several times in parts where more intense or degraded color effects were needed. Thorough knowledge and experience in using this technique was a must,
because removing the color or bleaching the dyes was impossible. Skin color was a subtle combination of red and yellow. Local coloring of eyes, eyebrows and
lips was done with fine pencils in a painting technique then using the concentrated dyes.  

An aerograph airbrush that was connected to a pressure cylinder with carbon dioxide was also often used. This cylinder is the same type that cafes and pubs still
use to put pressure on their beer barrels. The aerograph, which was not used on earlier hand colored work, made it possible to evenly spray highly translucent,
almost transparent color onto the photos to only add soft and subtle tonalities without having the coverage of heavier colors that were directly applied using a
paintbrush. I remember seeing the aerograph always soaking in a pot of acetone, which was used to clean the airbrush and prevent it from getting clogged.
Needless to say that an order of a handcolored portrait always had to be accompanied by a detailed list of physical characteristics that mentioned the exact color
of one's eyes, hair, clothing and jewelery.  

Because these color dyes and the baryta paper were both very colorfast and resistant to fading, this artistic technique was still applied in his studio until the
early 1960's, even when the first real color photographs in the 1950's led to a new sensation. Because light had such an intense fading impact on that first
generation of real color photographs, the studios often had to make 3 or 4 copies of each enlargement so they would be able to hang up a new one in their
display window every week.

Kenny Apers supplied the following biography of her grandfather Gaston Apers (November 21, 1911-June 6, 2000):

Born the 21st of November 1911 to an unmarried mother, he got the last name of Apers years after his birth when his mother married his stepfather. Gaston did
not have a happy childhood, and though he had to move several times in order to be taken care of by different families in Flanders as well as Wallonie, as a result
of this he became perfectly bilingual. He was quite young when he decided to be a professional soldier. He became a Sergeant in the Fifth Line Regiment and
earned some extra money by taking pictures of soldiers which he developed himself at a local photographer's studio. The owner of that studio, who was a
traditional portrait photographer himself, saw an artistic talent in Gaston and his work, and gave him personal training.

Gaston married Jeanette Cocquyt on the 20th of September 1933, with whom he started a photo shop in Ghent, Belgium in 1937 just before World War II. After
the capitulation of the Belgian army he was allowed to continue his profession as a photographer, however he received the obligation to house several soldiers
of the German occupation. These soldiers brought in new clientele of their fellow German soldiers who loved to have pictures taken of their Flemish sweethearts
or to have portraits taken of themselves to send to their German families. Because of this, after the war, he was wrongly blamed for having Nazi sympathies.
Gaston went on to enjoy many years of working as a portrait photographer of great renown and continued commercial success until he retired and left his photo
shop to the next generation in 1970. His son Marc was a professional photographer for many years, and now his granddaughter Nicky is still continuing in her
father's and grandfather's footsteps and owns a photo shop in Mariakerke near Ghent, Belgium.


1) Hand-Colouring of Photographs, Wikipedia,, accessed June 30, 2011

2) Dye Imbibition (Dye Transfer) and Carbon Printing, Analog Photography Users Group,, accessed June 30, 2011

3) G.L. Johnson,
Photography in Colours, G. Routledge Ltd., London, 1916

4) Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry, Vol. 25, February 28, 1906, p. 198

ColorantsHistory.Org thanks Sandy Kahn, Kenny Apers and Marc Apers for contributing photos and historical information relating to Gaston Apers.
Pinatype Color Print by Ernst Konig 1905
Farbewerke Hoechst Pina Dyes Used by Apers for Photo Coloration
Photo Courtesy of Sandy Kahn
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