Looking at vintage photo's is always intriguing...
It’s a window back into a different time, where we can see not only people of the past, but also snippets of how life was in terms of fashion and technology. They even let us glimpse pieces of major historical events.
But for so much of photography’s history, the images could only be relayed in black and white. The world was never black and white.
While a black-and-white photo can certainly capture the drama and emotion that a colour photo can, it can sometimes be hard to imagine it happening in real life. We (for the most part) see in colour, and so to see an image without colour removes a layer of reality from it.
Technology and the accessibility of software like Photoshop has allowed colourising to become not just an artistic hobby. Adding colour to historical black-and-white images isn’t a new phenomenon, but in recent years, a community of artists has emerged online as interest in their work has surged.
Why do these reproductions resonate so deeply with so many people? Colour images have a greater impact on our visual memory, and allow details we might otherwise gloss over to leap off the page. Take this colourisation of “Migrant Mother,” the iconic Dust Bowl image shot by Dorothea Lange at a California migrant camp in 1936. The image, already stunning in black-and-white, looks strikingly, startlingly familiar in colour. Every detail, from Florence Thompson’s sun-burnished skin to the frayed fabric on her tattered sleeve to the scuffs of dirt on her son’s cheek, seems to take on new dimension and feel more alive. The hardship embodied feels timeless, more viscerally human. See more Dorothea Lange images.
While purists may take umbrage at the idea of reworking history, there’s no question that these images have a powerful effect. When colour is added, everything changes. Wars waged, leaders assassinated, a nation’s greatest moments of pride and disgrace — colour doesn’t just make these images attractive or more palatable. It throws its subjects’ humanity into high relief and forces us to see historical events as things that happened in real life to real people, not events that unfolded in the chapters of a history textbook. “Suddenly, it’s right there in front of you.”
Dorothea Lange "Sunday afternoon". Note the kerosene pump on the right and the gasoline pump on the left. Rough, unfinished timber posts have been used as supports for porch roof. Negro men are sitting on the porch. Brother of store owner stands in doorway. Gordonton, North Carolina. Published July 1939. See more Dorothea Lange images.