One of the trends that has picked up pace in the last couple of years is that of restoring color to black & white photographs. Not that this is an entirely new thing, far from it. The practice is as old as photography itself; but the devices have changed, methods have evolved and the reasons for which photographers take up such projects have also undergone a transformation.
When it comes to tracing the genesis of the practice, accounts take us as far back as mid-19th century when, in an attempt to give the earliest daguerreotypes a realistic look and feel, Swiss painter and printmaker, J. B. Isenring used a mixture of gum Arabic and pigments. In Japan, the practice of hand-coloring of photographs garnered considerable acclaim as a refined artistic form in its own right. A notable organization involved in the making of hand-coloured photographs during late 19th century was Stillfried and Anderson, also known as Japan Photographic Association. Circulation of beautifully bound albums of landscape and portrait photographs that were often hand-coloured earned them much reputation and fame – take a peek at the sample below.
Fast forward to the present day and lo, we witness an even more interesting situation: in place of carefully devised methods to hand-color photographs, we have software that reduces the element of craft to minimum. However, without suggesting in the least that digital technology has given an easy way out to photographers, the coordinates of the practice have shifted considerably. As has been emphasized in previous articles, the idea of keeping history close and alive by restoring the artefacts and objects of the past has been gaining license in our super-fast and super-busy lives, a contradiction of sorts but that’ll be a topic for another post, another day.
There are quite a few photographers that are involved in such restoration projects. A large body of their work is available online on display and in the form of photo-books. They also make themselves available for commissions as is the case with serious projects, not to suggest again that their own work lacks any seriousness (I just hope Dana Keller is listening, her work is marvellous!). There, we named it. There are others: Sanna Dullaway, Jordan Llyod, to name a few. Sanna has done a lot of colorizations of pictures from the period of American civil war movement while Lloyd’s and Keller’s work is equally good and addresses a diverse range of topics.
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All three artists have their own reasons to undertake colorization projects. In words of Dana Keller, “Color establishes a renewed familiarity with the past. Color brings us closer to those pictures that we see only as shadows of a bygone era.” A lovely sentiment that we can get behind, yes.
Images courtesy of Dana Keller
Sanna’s point of view is no different, just simpler. She wants to see these pictures from a new perspective and do justice to the implements available to us to bring life and colour to a B&W print…perhaps give them a second chance?
Image courtesy of Sanna Dullaway
It goes without saying that projects such as this one reinvigorate our interest in phenomena that are connected, namely, History of photography, formal art of printmaking–paper as well as digital–and our general history–the awareness of which emerges in everything we do.
All this running in parallel to the growing crusade to draw the given world in pictures, we think, can only lead to good things and in line with our deep desire of safekeeping everything from decay and eventual oblivion.