History in Living Color

History in Living Color

A new trend has emerged — people are taking old black and white photos and meticulously adding color to them. In some cases, the colorized photos look so modern, you’d guess that they’re from our times, instead of being decades old.

Artists take old photos in various directions, depending on the colorizations. Some may argue that by choosing colors, they are changing or rewriting history in a way that may not portray reality. Nonetheless, the impressive techniques that are used are mostly well received. Furthermore, colorized photos from the past can spark interest in history, and help us relate to events and people from times gone by. By adding color to old photos, we bring them back to life. It is as if they are never before seen photos that are now being discovered.

The photo above, of unemployed men hanging out on the street in San Francisco, California, was taken by Dorothea Lange in April 1939 (credit: Library of Congress). It was colorized by the Brazilian artist turned digital colorist Marina Amaral as were the iconic (originally black and white) photos that follow here:

General George S. Patton, acknowledging the cheers of the welcoming crowds in Los Angeles, CA, during his visit on June 9, 1945. (Source: National Archives and Records Administration)

General George S. Patton, acknowledging the cheers of the welcoming crowds in Los Angeles, CA, during his visit on June 9, 1945. (Source: National Archives and Records Administration)

Do you prefer the colored photos or the originals?

The amazingly talented Marina is a 22-year-old from Brazil. Before becoming a colorization specialist, she was an International Relations student with no background in the arts or photography.

So how did she begin restoring black and white photos? We spoke with Marina to find out how she became a professional digital colorist.

Marina had always enjoyed using Photoshop in her free time, often spending hours at a time watching tutorials on YouTube, trying to better understand its tools and capabilities.

One day, I found a collection of restored photos of World War II and I decided to try to reproduce the technique myself. I had no idea what I was doing at first, but gradually I was able to figure out the best way to do it. With practice, I was able to develop my own techniques. I got better and better, and my work gained attention from the media as a result. Before long it became my profession.

Lately, Marina has been restoring a lot of photos from the 1850s. Depending on the complexity of the photo, it can take her anywhere from 40 minutes to more than 4 days to colorize a photo. She does her best to not overly manipulate the photos.
I remove scratches and dirt, but I will never remove an object that is part of the scene just because I want to.
The photo that has had the greatest impact on Marina since she started colorizing photos is the image below, of a young girl who was murdered at Auschwitz.
That photo is so important in many different ways. My ultimate goal was to give her a chance to present herself, to “say her name,” show her face and tell her story. I wanted people to understand that not only her, but all the victims had a life, family, dreams, friends, ambitions, fears, and they had it all taken away from them.
As someone who was always fascinated by history, Marina enjoys her daily work, which combines her creativity with her love of the past.
I love reading a book and trying to imagine myself living in that era, under the same conditions and environment that I’m reading about. Colorizing photos is the same idea. It’s a wonderful experience.
 What do YOU think of colorizing old black and white photos?


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  • John Grimes

    July 23, 2017

    I think this is a very effective way to help capture the past in our minds. The Auschwitz photo is haunting. I could not stop looking at it. It brought home the horror of this monstrous crime the way no text description could. We see the world in color; why shouldn’t we see our past in color too?

  • Victoria

    September 22, 2017

    I would love to see all black & white photos colorized.
    History is very important, with color the image’s make a more profound impact….