Let there be color

I saw a rather cool series of photos from the B&W age which have been colorized. The colorized versions give an entirely different “feel” to the moment.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Watch out, Father. I remember a cartoon I saw once, I think originating in the New Yorker, with St Peter confronting a potential new candidate for Heaven at the Pearly Gates.

    But St Peter is consulting the book and says, “You colorized Casablanca. How unfortunate.”

  2. ghp95134 says:

    She’s very good! In the photo entitled “Union Soldiers Taking a Break 1863,” bottom right with the pooch is Lieutenant George Armstrong Custer with staff members of General Fitz-John Porter.


  3. ckdexterhaven says:

    The picture of Lou Gehrig (at the link) is heartbreaking. He only had two years to live.

  4. Kathleen10 says:

    oh those are amazing. thank you for posting these. They are simply beautiful. This is photojournalism I guess, a photo that so well captures an image or a moment it makes you feel it.
    “Easter eggs for Hitler”, hehe.

  5. JBS says:

    Lincoln has a striking appearance, with or without color. The passing of Churchill marked the end of Britain as the model society, so that the nation has slipped from happy full-colour to sad greyness. The first image is certainly made more human by the addition of color.

  6. incredulous says:

    Follow the link. The photos are simply captivating. I could study them all day and construct a different perspective of life decades or centuries ago.

    Imagine color photographs from biblical times?

  7. trespinos says:

    Lest some of the younger viewers be misled by the 1970 reference in the link, it should be stated that color photography was not all that unusual in earlier decades. Kodacolor was released for the mass market in 1942, I believe, and color photos start appearing in my family’s albums in 1948. (Sadly those originals are badly yellowed today.) But there are also examples of colorized photos very similar to those here dating from the 30’s and 40’s.

  8. Legisperitus says:

    The thing that always bugs me about tinted or colorized photos is teeth (some shown at the link). Unless the subject has perfectly white teeth, they always show up gray. Whoever does this should at least give them a tinge of yellow.

  9. The Napoleon poses are even better in color.

  10. Mike says:

    I appreciated this creative explanation of the history of color photography:

  11. amenamen says:

    Wonderful technology.
    I recall that many in the film industry oppose the digital “colorization” of classic black and white films, because the original art form had its own unique qualities (e.g., Who would dare to colorize Michelangelo’s Pieta?)
    As always, the great Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”) had his own explanation of why old photographs are always black and white:

  12. The Cobbler says:

    Calvin and Hobbes also sported this amusing reflection on “seeing things in terms of black and white”:
    I’ve read somewhere that that was prompted by Watterson being accused of “having a black and white view of the issue” when fighting over the licensing and merchandise issue.

    On-topic: That first one looks… so brown. I wonder what that scene looked like actually standing there? Maybe it was all that brown. Maybe the sunlight was more palpable. Yes, the sunlight was definitely more palpable — country that dry gets enough sun that it would have to be palpable; I would know, the palpability of the sunlight is one of the things that has struck me on my few and brief sojourns in southwest country.

  13. I find the picture of Pres. Lincoln fascinating. His top hat, his long thin frame, the awkward stance next to the military officer.

    His presence isn’t so much imposing as it is captivating.

    (just noticed the minor photobomb by the soldier)

    As for Churchill. If that face isn’t the definition of gravitas, I don’t know what is.

  14. Gaetano says:

    The Civil War photos as the least accurate of the bunch. The broad brimmed hats the officers are wearing should be black. For those who know, it’s jarring.

  15. excalibur says:

    The one you posted with Lincoln looks like wax figures, particularly the biggest killer in American history. That would be Lincoln, in case anyone wonders; the man who stomped all over the Constitution, and set the stage for where we are today.

  16. MarylandBill says:

    I am not a fan of colorizing old photos. Photographs are both works of art and historical documents. A good photographer knows his medium, whether it is a digital sensor, color or B&W film or even glass plates. His composition is built around the specific strengths and limitations of the media. I actually think some of these photos lost some impact by the addition of color since color photographs tend draw the viewers attention in different ways than black and white photographs do. Lets take the Churchill portrait as an example. I find my eye drawn to his left hand, something I never really noticed in the B&W version of the portrait, certainly trivial compared to the apparent expression of defiance on Churchill’s face (it was actually annoyance as the Photographer had snatched the cigar from Churchill to get his attention). Also, the image has been brightened considerably; in the original there is just a hint of a glow behind Churchill that in some way suggests England as being one of the sole lights against the Darkness that had spread across Europe. That impact is lost in the color photo where the glow has been expanded considerably.

    From the perspective of a historical document, adding color often adds information that may be false to the actual history (such as hair and eye color, the color of structures or clothes).

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