Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

The color of life

Man, do I appreciate the artists out there who take old black-and-white photographs and colorize them. And they don’t do it in the old Ted Turner fashion, who was roundly and probably rightly condemned in the ’80s for computer-colorizing lots of old MGM movies. Those didn’t look right. And, unlike movies actually filmed in color, like The Wizard of Oz, these converted ones gave me uneasy feelings, like heavily made-up dead people on open-casket display. Icky.

But the photos in this article – none of which I’m posting because I don’t want to run afoul of copyright issues – are haunting in a completely different way. They bring their eras to life, revealing detail and humanity that didn’t quite come through in black-and-white.

There’s a dazzling scene from the wharves of New York City, circa 1900, full of realistic color that makes the image seem contemporary. Some unrealistic color too, but it works in a painterly way, attracting your eye. Two shots of a Civil War era general show how different approaches tease out different elements. And there’s the required portrait of Abraham Lincoln, which makes him look a lot less weary than we’re used to seeing him. Maybe a little bored.

But the images that will haunt me forever are the three ID photos of a young female Auschwitz inmate. Click on the link for those alone, because the color in them draws out the girl’s heart-wrenching fear and despair. She is utterly human, and how anyone could have dehumanized her the way they did is a glimpse into the kind of malevolence we wish could be eradicated even though we know it’s insidious and here to stay.

Her fear is our own. In living color.

12 comments on “The color of life

  1. kingmidget
    March 30, 2018

    Interesting. The one I appreciate the most is that iconic Dorothea Lange photo. But as I scrolled the pictures I was both intrigued by the new look at these classic pictures and turned off by them. My memories of these images are of the black and white originals. Adding realistic color is interesting, but I’ll stick with my memories. 😉

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 30, 2018

      Señor Buzzkill. 🙄

      • kingmidget
        March 30, 2018

        They call me the Angel of Darkness for a reason. 😉

      • kingmidget
        March 30, 2018

        There is a reason they call me the Angel of Darkness.

      • Kevin Brennan
        March 30, 2018

        Everybody’s favorite party guest, eh? 😉

  2. Priscilla Bettis
    March 30, 2018

    I reached to smooth the hair of the little boy in the Dorothea Lange photo and hit the glass of my computer screen. It made me uncomfortable (in a good way) because the color put real people in front of the camera instead of just an artistically captured image.

  3. Robert Parker
    March 30, 2018

    I love history, and when someone does it right, I love colorizing. Yes, sometimes a faded, silvery old picture is evocative, and leave well enough alone. But I’ve never cared for many of these gray or brownish pictures,that make everything look dead and dreary, and personally, I’ve never experienced anything in real life in sepia, other than a couple of barrooms I’d rather forget. Anything that can draw people to history, I’ve even seen some clever animation added to old images, and more power to them, just as I appreciate Ken Burns’ bringing a bit of life to old, sometimes over-familiar photos with his “pan zoom”. (Not one of my favorites, but a few years ago, the band Carbon Leaf had a decent pop song “The War Was in Color”)
    I couldn’t tell you, if “right” means accurate, or artistic, or both, but seeing those greengrocers in bowler hats, dickering over bananas, seems more like a glimpse of real life than when it was B&W.
    And it’s nice to see Abe, “looking like himself,” as they say, and not like a grayish statue. That’s not to deny, that there are iconic images that were always meant to be in B&W, and prettifying them is worse than gilding the lily – to be good in B&W, of course, is more than just an absence of color.
    I’ll dry up now, but if this technique can make an image more “haunting” I’m all for it.

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 30, 2018

      I’m with you, Robert. I mean, unless the photographer is purposely going for an effect that only B&W can achieve, color is certainly more “real.” It makes history feel like it could be now, in a way. Which could help us not make the same mistakes they made then.

      We can hope, anyway …

  4. Phillip McCollum
    March 30, 2018

    I’ve seen a few of these before, but they never cease to amaze me. Thanks for sharing!

    • Kevin Brennan
      March 30, 2018

      They are fascinating, for some reason. We all know the past wasn’t in black and white, yet seeing it in color is strange. I wonder what technology will be developed in the future to make 2018 seem more real to people then. 😉

      • Phillip McCollum
        March 30, 2018

        Funny, I was wondering the same thing…I’m imagining the great Mother Computer of the future will be able to recreate VR holograms based on image data.

  5. pinklightsabre
    March 30, 2018

    Bizarre and fascinating! Pull aside that cloak that distances us from the past. Remarkable effect, it has.

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This entry was posted on March 30, 2018 by in Et alia and tagged , .
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