I come across a number of individuals that vehemently disagree with the concept of colourising old black and white photos. There argument always covers a limited number of well worn paths.
- This is the artistic perspective the photographer wished to encapsulate the tones and tints they framed in their photograph.
- Don't interfere with history and the way life was.
- How on Earth can you possibly know what colours there were represented in the original photo and why would you want to change history. Leave it.
- Stop coloring old photos.
I have encountered all these perspectives, but as an artist and colourist I have the following perspective and rebuttals.
Since the dawn of time, from the very first moment earliest man has scratched pictures onto the walls of caves, he and she have used colours to project life as they saw it , Reality in colour onto the surfaces they were decorating with art. Neanderthals were introducing colour into their paintings 40,000 years ago. From memory or recollection.
Fast forward to the Between approximately 5000 BC and 300 AD, “advanced” civilizations (generally, those with written language) thrived in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Sumeria, Akkadia, Mexico, Rome, Japan, China, and India. Art played an important role in these growing societies by providing a means to enforce religious and political order. For example, one of the most famous artworks from ancient Mesopotamia ,often called the “cradle of civilization,” is the Code of Hammurabi , a set of laws carved in stone and adorned by an image of King Hammurabi and the Mesopotamian god Shabash. Similarly, the art of ancient Egypt includes symbolic imagery alongside text (hieroglyphs) that tells stories and exalts rulers, gods, and goddesses, in colour. This period of ancient art is considered by some to be the foundation of all of art history, with its techniques, forms, and subject matter continuing to inform the art of today.
Middle Ages Art
Art during the Middle Ages saw many changes and the emergence of the early Renaissance period. Byzantine Art was the name given to the style of art used in very early Middle Ages Art. This period was also known as the Dark Ages ( 410 AD - 1066 AD ). The Dark Ages were followed by the Medieval era of the Middle Ages (1066 - 1485) and changes in Middle Ages Art which saw the emergence of the early Renaissance Art. To appreciate the full extent of the changes in Middle Ages Art and the Early Renaissance it is helpful to understand its fore-runner - Byzantium Art and its effects on art during the Middle Ages.
Lindisfarne Gospels - (710 -721 A.D.) (Dark Ages) Early Middle Ages
There is a huge range of individual pigments used in the manuscript. The colours are derived from animal, vegetable and mineral sources. While some colours were obtained from local sources, others were imported from the Mediterranean, and rare pigments such as lapis lazuli would have come from the Himalayas.Gold is used in only a couple of small details. The medium used to bind the colours was primarily egg white, with fish glue perhaps used in a few places. Backhouse emphasizes that "all Eadfrith's colours are applied with great skill and accuracy, but ... we have no means of knowing exactly what implements he used". Professor Brown added that Eadfrith " knew about lapis lazuli [a semi-precious stone with a blue tint] from the Himalayas but could not get hold of it, so made his own".
Giotto di Bondone , was an Italian painter and architect from Florence during the late Middle Ages. He worked during the Gothic/Proto Renaisaance period.
Giotto's contemporary, the banker and chronicler Giobanni Villani , wrote that Giotto was "the most sovereign master of painting in his time, who drew all his figures and their postures according to nature" and of his publicly recognized "talent and excellence".
In his Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, Giorgio Vasari described Giotto as making a decisive break with the prevalent Byzantine style and as initiating "the great art of painting as we know it today, introducing the technique of drawing accurately from life, which had been neglected for more than two hundred years".
Giotto's masterwork is the decoration of the Scrovegni Chapel, in Padua, also known as the Arena Chapel, which was completed around 1305. The fresco cycle depicts the Life of the Virgin and the Life of Christ. It is regarded as one of the supreme masterpieces of the Early Renaissance.
That Giotto painted the Arena Chapel and that he was chosen by the Commune of Florence in 1334 to design the new campanile (bell tower) of the Florence Cathedral are among the few certainties about his life. Almost every other aspect of it is subject to controversy: his birth date, his birthplace, his appearance, his apprenticeship, the order in which he created his works, whether or not he painted the famous frescoes in the Upper Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi and his burial place.
Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino b: March 28 or April 6, 1483 – April 6, 1520), known as Raphael , was an Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance. His work is admired for its clarity of form, ease of composition, and visual achievement of the Neoplatonic ideal of human grandeur. Together with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, he forms the traditional trinity of great masters of that period.
Raphael was enormously productive, running an unusually large workshop and, despite his death at 37, leaving a large body of work. Many of his works are found in the Vatican Palace, where the frescoed Raphael Rooms were the central, and the largest, work of his career. The best known work is The School of Athens in the Vatican Stanza della Segnatura. After his early years in Rome, much of his work was executed by his workshop from his drawings, with considerable loss of quality. He was extremely influential in his lifetime, though outside Rome his work was mostly known from his collaborative printmaking.
After his death, the influence of his great rival Michelangelo was more widespread until the 18th and 19th centuries, when Raphael's more serene and harmonious qualities were again regarded as the highest models. His career falls naturally into three phases and three styles, first described by Giorgio Vasari: his early years in Umbria, then a period of about four years (1504–1508) absorbing the artistic traditions of Florence, followed by his last hectic and triumphant twelve years in Rome, working for two Popes and their close associates.
Painting materials used by Raphael
Raphael painted several of his works on wood support (Madonna of the Pinks) but he also used canvas (Sistine Madonna) and he was known to employ drying oils such as linseed or walnut oils. His palette was rich and he used almost all of the then available pigments such as ultramarine, lead-tin-yellow, carmine, vermilion, madder lake, verdigris and ochres. In several of his paintings (Ansidei Madonna) he even employed the rare brazilwood lake, metallic powdered gold and even less known metallic powdered bismuth.
Realism (Art Movement)
Realism was an artistic movement that began in France in the 1840s, after the 1848 Revolution. Realists rejected Romanticism, which had dominated French literature and art since the late 18th century. Realism revolted against the exotic subject matter and the exaggerated emotionalism and drama of the Romantic movement. Instead, it sought to portray real and typical contemporary people and situations with truth and accuracy, and not avoiding unpleasant or sordid aspects of life. The movement aimed to focus on unidealized subjects and events that were previously rejected in art work. Realist works depicted people of all classes in situations that arise in ordinary life, and often reflected the changes brought by the Industrial and Commercial Revolutions. Realism was primarily concerned with how things appeared to the eye, rather than containing ideal representations of the world . The popularity of such "realistic" works grew with the introduction of photography—a new visual source that created a desire for people to produce representations which look objectively real.
Photography: - Black & White
Monochrome photography is photography where each position on an image can record and show a different amount of light, but not a different hue. It includes all forms of black-and-white photography, which produce images containing tones of neutral grey ranging from black to white. Other hues besides grey, such as sepia, cyan or brown can also be used in monochrome photography. In the contemporary world, monochrome photography is mostly used for artistic purposes and certain technical imaging applications, rather than for visually accurate reproduction of scenes.
" In the contemporary world, monochrome photography is mostly used for artistic purposes and certain technical imaging applications, rather than for visually accurate reproduction of scenes."
The introduction of photography was not the introduction of the era of the Artistic invention of Grey scale interpretation of Art , Life and the World as we saw it. It was simply the creation of a means of capturing realistic detail, unfortunately without the key ingredient of the last 3.4 Billion years of the Earth as it had been known: Colour. Photographers from the earliest minute were looking for ways to replicate real life as they saw it, as those that were around them saw it and as the world was, in Colour. The need was for a cheaper form of capturing reality other than by the Realist artists hand, but it was unavailable. Black and White photography was comparatively cheaper than having an Artist paint a scene or portrait, but many early photographers craved the ability to have colour in their images, The world was on a hunt for a means to capture images in TRUE realism, not simply in monochrome. The vast majority of Photographs taken since the invention of the medium, until the easy access to colour photography became affordable, were simply "Happy Snaps" and recording a grey scale life, not for any artistic purpose, nor for any reason to maintain an artificial snapshot of humanity in a Grey scale prison from approx 1835 until the early 1960's. It was purely and only in the largest majority of cases because there was no other affordable means of delivering a realistic rendition of a photograph in colour, the only way of capturing that before you was in monochrome.
From the very moment photography was invented a means of making it colour were actively sought and longed for., Hand tinting was introduced to replicate reality more closely, but the ultimate prize was the development of true colour photography, to replace the artificial concept of reality in Grey scale. Hand-colouring (or hand-coloring) refers to any method of manually adding colour to a black-and-white photograph, generally either to heighten the realism of the photograph or for artistic purposes.
Early Colour Photography:
Early experiments: Color photography was attempted beginning in the 1840s. An entirely different approach to color
In 1886 Lippmann's interest had turned to a method of fixing the colors of the solar spectrum on a photographic plate. On 2 February 1891, he announced to the Academy of Sciences: "I have succeeded in obtaining the image of the spectrum with its colors on a photographic plate whereby the image remains fixed and can remain in daylight without deterioration." By April 1892, he was able to report that he had succeeded in producing color images of a stained glass window, a group of flags, a bowl of oranges topped by a red poppy and a multicolored parrot. He presented his theory of color photography using the interference method in two papers to the academy, one in 1894, the other in 1906.
Sergey Mikhaylovich Prokudin-Gorsky (Russian: Серге́й Миха́йлович Проку́дин-Го́рский, listen (help·info); August 30 [O.S. August 18] 1863 – September 27, 1944) was a Russian chemist and photographer. He is best known for his pioneering work in colour photography and his effort to document early 20th-century Russia.
Using a railroad-car darkroom provided by Tsar Nicholas II, Prokudin-Gorsky traveled the Russian Empire from around 1909 to 1915 using his three-image colour photography to record its many aspects. While some of his negatives were lost, the majority ended up in the U.S. Library of Congress after his death. Starting in 2000, the negatives were digitised and the colour triples for each subject digitally combined to produce hundreds of high-quality colour images of century-ago Russia.
Kodachrome is a brand name for a non-substantive, color reversal film introduced by Eastman Kodak in 1935. It was one of the first successful color materials and was used for both cinematography and still photography. For many years Kodachrome was widely used for professional color photography, especially for images intended for publication in print media. Because of its complex processing requirements, the film was sold process-paid in the United States until 1954 when a legal ruling prohibited this. Elsewhere, this arrangement continued.
Before Kodachrome film was marketed in 1935, most color photography had been achieved using additive methods and materials such as Autochrome and Dufaycolor, which were the first practical color processes. These had several disadvantages because they used a réseau filter made from discrete color elements that were visible upon enlargement. The finished transparencies absorbed between 70% and 80% of light upon projection, requiring very bright projection lamps, especially for large projections. Using the subtractive method, these disadvantages could be avoided.
Colorisation of Photos
Monochrome images which have been "colorized" by tinting selected areas by hand or mechanically or with the aid of a computer are "colored photographs", not "color photographs". Their colors are not dependent on the actual colors of the objects photographed and may be inaccurate.
Coloring or Colourisation of Photographs is not the exact technological extraction of colours from the ETHER to digitally replace them onto a Black and White Photograph. At this point those that oppose the artistic application of colours onto old photos , whoop for joy and begin to froth from the mouth,gnash their teeth, roll their eyes into the back of their heads, begin short jerky movements of their arms and body, their heads also loll from side to side whilst cracking neck bones become audible. Such is the passion that many manifest when attempting to defend the Grey scale prison created for generations of people, places, architecture, monuments and the world in general for over 100 years, by a handful of artists in the big picture and mostly by happy snappers.
Colorisation is nothing more than the application of colour to these old photographs, in the same way artists have replicated life , by painting, illustration and coloring of images since the beginning of time. The problem becomes evident when an image is poorly coloured or coloured without any empathy to its time, place, settings or reality.
Colour adds reality, depth and relativity to a photo, it is so powerful that it can evoke an immediate understanding of an era or time in history, sometimes without the need for any other context. As a result a great deal of responsibility rests on the shoulders of the Artist / Photo colorist to recreate the sense of realism that is required to successfully colorise old Black and White photos. It is simply not about picking pretty colours, that look nice together or making a subject look balanced by choosing colours that will give a photo a nice look based on one's own preferences in colour.
Colorising photos is as sophisticated as planning an oil painting or other artistic rendition that is meant to replicate a place, time and presence authentically and with realism. Each photo is a snap shot in time and each time had its collection of style, colour, patterns and textures. One must also understand that colours and patterns from previous eras always intersect or overlap with any contemporary colours in a photo. For instance an image taken on the 30th of July 1930 incorporates not only that which surrounds it from that time period, but in the instance of homes, architecture, automobiles and other infrastructure, must incorporate colours that were popular or utilized in earlier times, old signs and faded structures have suffered at the hands of time, therefore are not the colours popular or rendered on the 30th of July 1930. The importance of understanding this is that when choosing the weathered hues one must have an understanding of the heritage period and the periods that came before.
Research, Experience and Knowledge.
Nothing can replace these three parameters when recreating a coloured scene and rendering them to a photograph. Your Colorist should have a large and varied Portfolio of Historical data, coloured plates, historical resources, magazines, books, post cards, colourised postcards, heritage colour cards from architectural and transportation,such as cars,trucks, shipping, aviation.
Naturally the internet is now an amazing resource for tracking down a range of historical information, which includes, old signage, advertisements, colour schemes, fashion through the ages and popular trends in materials.
Colourization properly applied ads a more relate-able look to history , creates awareness and educates. Photo colorization isn’t simply picking random colours it requires studious research to ensure historical accuracy is maintained. The colours of varying eras of fashion, materials, infrastructure, vehicles, signage and advertisements need to be well and truly understood prior to any attempt at rendering an image via digital means.
Having access to the necessary resources is important. A passion for research is paramount. The resources that present themselves or that need to be available include Historians, Government or Business archives, manufacturing blue prints or plans, private museums or collections apart from public museums and relatives or ancestry that may have ephemera, diaries or other information can lead to authenticity and accuracy in the colourisation process.
True authenticity and historical accuracy comes with not only the foundations of correct and true to era colours and hues, but also having clear understanding of a number of environmental factors that come into play. Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring all present different lights and intensity of light, Northern and Southern hemisphere also present variabilities. The shadows and reflections that are evident on a hot summers day are altogether different to those that appear on a cold and frosty morning. They also affect the way a colour appears, both directly and by reflection. Glass and metals incorporate reflections that not only need to appear in the photos, but need to be the correct temperatures for their environment.
Colourising Old Photos is not a replacement or substitute for the Black & White Photos, it is a supplement to give a contemporary reliability.
Past Colours by Peter Vasic: