We have developed photochemically controlled photonic crystals that may be useful in novel recordable and erasable memories and/or display devices. These materials can operate in the UV, visible, or near-IR spectral regions. Information is recorded and erased by exciting the photonic crystal with ∼ 360 nm UV light or ∼ 480 nm visible light. The information recorded is read out by measuring the photonic crystal diffraction wavelength. The active element of the device is an azobenzene-functionalized hydrogel, which contains an embedded crystalline colloidal array. UV excitation forms cis-azobenzene while visible excitation forms trans-azobenzene. The more favorable free energy of mixing of cis-azobenzene causes the hydrogel to swell and to red-shift the photonic crystal diffraction. We also observe fast nanosecond, microsecond, and millisecond transient dynamics associated with fast heating lattice constant changes, refractive index changes, and thermal relaxations.