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Realistically Colorized Historical Photos: It’s Just Like Time-Traveling!

Behold the Past come to life! Thanks to the work of such amazing digital artists like Jordan Lloyd, Dana Keller and Sanna Dullaway, you now can experience famous historical (black & white) photographs in a wholly fresh new way.

Visit 22 Words, where you’ll find plenty more examples, along with some other links to similar content.

Let’s see how many Grailers get a sense of deja-vú with these 😉

Link: Realistically colorized historical photos make the past seem incredibly real [36 pictures]

  1. Call me a curmudgeon
    But, frankly, I don’t give a shit.

    This reminds me of when Ted Turner had black and while movies “colorized” and shown on his movie network; crass,low rent behavior masquerading as artistic enhancement.

    These are iconic images, striking, as well as beautiful, in their original form.

    This is dramatic evidence of the slimy dark underside of modern technology, as well as a generation that thinks “sampling” the original work of others makes them artists. Only in their pitiful dreams.

    This kind of bastardization of someone else’s work is all too easy with the new technologies, easier than forging an Old Master’s painting.

    This person isn’t an artist, rather a hack and defacer of others’ original art. And just because the art in question was created for commercial purposes doesn’t make this any less offensive.

    1. Eye of the Beholder
      [quote=purrlgurrl]This person isn’t an artist, rather a hack and defacer of others’ original art. And just because the art in question was created for commercial purposes doesn’t make this any less offensive.[/quote]

      Though by that rationale, someone else might say the original photographer defaced the beauty of real life by trying to capture a single moment of it, stripping of its context and flow.

      If 15 years of running this website has taught me one thing, it’s that one person’s offensive is another person’s fascinating or beautiful…

    2. The ‘good’ thief
      This is dramatic evidence of the slimy dark underside of modern technology, as well as a generation that thinks “sampling” the original work of others makes them artists. Only in their pitiful dreams.

      This kind of bastardization of someone else’s work is all too easy with the new technologies, easier than forging an Old Master’s painting.

      This person isn’t an artist, rather a hack and defacer of others’ original art. And just because the art in question was created for commercial purposes doesn’t make this any less offensive.[/quote]

      I guess I would count as both the slimy underside and the bastard, as I have done this before, but I have never used it to make money or steal someone’s work, just when I was learning to become a designer. I think that the majority of people who colorize are doing it for fun and to be transported back in time. A friend of mine saw these and stated “Some of the images look like movie sets.” Well that’s unfortunately how the world sees things nowadays, based off what they know from Hollywood and not true history. It is interesting to see them in color, and granted, if someone is doing these to steal work or for monetary gain, I can think of a bunch of less time consuming things to make money. Bastard that I am I do agree that the originals are better. I love black and white photography and studied it for many years, even used an Asashi from the 1980s, and it still works! Then again if someone colorized say an Ansel Adams photo, I’d want to punch them in the face!!!

    3. Okay, You’re a Curmugeon
      You really need some perspective on the concept of “offensive”. Twenty-one Christians being beheaded by ISIS is “offensive”.

      Like it or not, our children didn’t grow up on black & white. Nothing in their world is black & white. With their virtual reality video games, interactive toys, and intense action flicks – why would anyone expect them to be able to connect with scratchy old black & white historical photos?

      Photo colorizing connects them with a moment-in-time on a more personal level than black & white ever could. Nothing is defaced. The black & white photo is still there for your enjoyment. Easy? That depends. Put a paintbrush in a 3 year-old’s hand, and they can paint a beautifully sloppy picture. Put the same paintbrush in the hand of a master painter – and you get art. Sure, there’s a lot of gaudy Ted Turnerish colorization out there. But, I’ve also seen images from “My Grapefruit” and “American Photo Colorizing” that look like true color photos. Images suddenly take on a 3D depth not inherent in the original. I like ’em.

    4. world’s highest standard of living
      back in college i wrote a short essay on “world’s highest standard of living”…i had two reactions to the pictures…one. (i laughed at myself) when i imagined the photo in real life i never imagined the ad in the being in color; i think that’s because almost every picture i’ve ever seen of the 1950 is black and white…two. i find he black and white version of the picture more compelling…

      and to our curmudgeonly purrlgurrl…don’t you think the original photographers wouldn’t have been ecstatic to have taken and/or seen their works in color? “colorizing” photos is as old as photography itself.

  2. I find I’m able to appreciate
    I find I’m able to appreciate the photos as if I’d never seen them before. I think they’re very well done.

    I remember the first time I watched color footage (not colorized) of ww2, Germany etc. It was if that time period became real to me instead of some obscure point in history…strange I guess but true for me all the same.


    1. That was the point
      Thanks, creox. That was my original intention for posting this: Not because I think the colorized versions of this iconic photos are better than the original ones in b&w, but because it allows the viewer to appreciate it in a whole new way, and have more personal appreciation of history.

      It’s the same type of impact one might have had when viewing the film Saving Private Ryan, or Flags of our Fathers.

          1. concur

            Colorizing brings to life people and objects which had been trapped in a world devoid of color.

            For example, everyone knows that WWI and WWII were fought in black & white. That’s what the newsreels showed. That’s what Hollywood showed us. It wwas as if they were from some other world, though they looked like us.

            Adding color brings them to life. It makes them real. It allows me to gaze upon the face of Abraham Lincoln as his contemporaries saw him. Not a distant imnage, a shadow of a man, but a real face of flesh and blood. When I see it, I see the face that my ancestors saw, and it gives me a connection through all time to that point.

            Colorization makes history real to us. I applaud it’s use and only wish that it were done full-on to all our past images.

          2. Agreed, but it does violate
            Agreed, but it does violate an artist’s original vision, so it should only be regarded as an adjunct and not a substitute. There are probably photographers who weren’t really considering themselves great black and white photo artists though, and who would colorize their old works themselves for the reasons enumerated above.

          3. i disagree..
            i don’t see how it violates the artist’s original vision…when these photos were taken b & w was a limitation not a choice. perhaps many of the original photographers wished they could have taken the photos in color but couldn’t.

  3. Colorized Historical Photographs
    Only a select few humans see in black & white. Colorized pictures go back to daguerreotypes,in fact when Rev. Levi Hill announced the development of color daguerreotypes in 1850, it depressed the entire American photograph market for approx. 6 months. To see these pictures in the approximate colors the photographer saw and took is to restore rather than deface these photographs.

    1. But colorizing photographs
      But colorizing photographs and films that were originally made to be seen in black and white is just an exercise in novelty. Film makers like Scorcese and Woody Allen are rightfully indignant that some people might see the colorized version of a film before seeing the original black and white. Film Noir for instance would be hugely ruined and disrespected by a colorizations. Imagine the travesty of colorizing Citizen Kane or The Third Man. Rather, don’t even imagine it.

  4. Beautiful photos
    These are absolutely beautiful! You really can get more out of a photo when it is colorized. It honestly just makes the time seem more real, and people can definitely relate better to that particular time.


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  • Colorized Historical Photos
    There is a world of difference between the colorization of Photographs and Films. I agree 90% that films produced in B&W need not be colorized. Exceptions,in my mind, include the original “King Kong”, “Things to Come” and “She”, all filmed in B&W but benefit when viewed in a colorized edition. At the same time, no one that I am aware of thinks, “The Wizard of OZ” or “Gone with the Wind” would look better if viewed in B&W. The predominance of B&W photographs however, was a technical limitation, imposed by the limitations of the film stock and printing reproduction capabilities of the period. When color photography and printing reproduction became cheap enough, B&W photographs became the reserve of those who chose to show the “Art” of B&W, and chose B&W because it was a conscious decision. I assert that those who colorize historical photographs give us the ability to see their photographic world new again and make us bring their vision to our 21st century eyes.

    1. How does a B/W photograph
      How does a B/W photograph specifically shot within the parameters available differ from say a B/W lithograph or a pencil drawing? Would you be so blase’ about colorizing a Winslow Homer lithograph?

  • Colorized Historical Photographs
    To answer emlong’s question,”Would you be so blase’ about colorizing a Winslow Homer lithograph?”, my answer is, “Yes” as Winslow Homer did it himself in taking his own sketches of: Sharpshooter on Picket Duty (1862), Home, Sweet Home (1863), and Prisoners from the Front (1866) from his own wartime sketches to finished paintings,(or colorize,if I may be so bold). In fact, Homers’ Home Sweet Home, was taken from Sketch, to lithograph, to painting (colorized), and back to to a lithograph of the painting. Regardless, I like colorized pictures, and others don’t, so be it. I just think they are neat.

    1. If you asked Homer if he
      If you asked Homer if he didn’t mind you colorizing his lithographs he would turn over in his grave. Using sketches as the basis for later color works is not at all the same thing as colorizing a sketch. B/W work uses a very different technique for casting shadows for instance and for composition.. No museum would have an exhibition of colorized black and white work unless it was something the artist himself did, and even then the two bodies of work would stand separately.

      I Remember Mama in Color


      “I am a movie lover, not a “purist” and also a film maker. I have worked in both color and black and white as cinematographer/Director of Photography (DP). it is from my experience and knowledge as a DP that I address the “colorization issue.” interestingly, a lot of people (mostly the younger technological generations who may not know what an 8-track is) don’t realize that black and white films are not like color films that’ve been color shifted to monochrome, like people can do today with editing programs.

      Please bear with me here…I’ll begin with a little breakdown behind the camera. there are several key positions in making a film. the 2 most important behind the camera are the Director and the DP. The director is essentially in charge of pulling a performance from the actors, keeping a cohesive story, maintaining a pace, and communicating the “feeling” of a scene desired to the DP. a director has a story he/she wants to tell, but how that story *visually appears* on the screen is a direct result of not the director but the DP. if not for that key position, there would be _no lights_ to show the actors or the scene (and no camera, but since this is mostly about lighting, i’ll leave the camera skill out). lighting is vital to every film. that lighting is also different for b/w films than for color. it is the DP’s job to know that difference, and make each and every shot as close to believable as possible. 99% of everything you see in a film that looks like believable light (sunlight, candles, firelight, moonlight, or lamplight) is not. It is a skilled DP injecting or throwing light into a scene in a believable way, in a way that the viewers don’t wonder “hey, where’s that light coming from?” viewer’s are supposed to accept what they see as real. when shooting b/w, shadows fall differently because scenes have to be over-lit to show the different shades of grey and deep shadows and light. constructing a visually interesting shot in black and white is literally an art form. (As is shooting in color, but that is not what I am addressing in this post.)

      it is not easy to light a film for black and white. take a moment to pause the film and look at a scene of a black and white film. do you see just black and white? no. there are areas of light and dark, multiple shades of white to black, most in the grey zone. but it’s not just 1 shade of grey, it’s many shades of grey. coloring all those different shades of grey will result in an odd appearing result because it would be hard to match color saturation to the grey scale. take a few minutes to look where the shadows for the characters fall. often you will see several shadows per character. the reason is, in order to achieve a physically detailed face and body full of implied texture and movement to suggest a living being on the screen (not actual body movement, but the life implied on the skin and in the eyes and the glisten of moisture on the lips, etc), on a black and white canvas there have to be lights on everything in order to make them look the way they do. if someone was to light everything equally or evenly, there would be no depth to the scene and quite frankly, it would look flat, like older cartoons, or be too washed out or the opposite, too dark. while films are actually 2-D, the goal of the film makers are to make films appear to have depth, an implied 3rd dimension. totally flat lighting would make the scene look flat, the actors would not seem as “alive”, the shot would have no visual interest, and be a failure on the part of the DP, unless that was what the director had in mind for the shot.

      so, to not sound like a purist, but rather an artist, colorizing black and white films would be the equivalent of someone saying they want to re-do the mona lisa or Sistine chapel in neon colors. they don’t have the “visual image” that the DP had in their mind, nor do they have a fitting canvas to color because the lighting is wrong for it. colorizing a film is literally screwing with someone else’s work that they tried very very hard to perfect.

      we’ve all heard the argument for widescreen versus pan and scan, with the directors of the films saying that pan and scan is an editor, who doesn’t “see” what the director sees mentally, and essentially re-editing the director’s vision of the film, chopping off part of the shot that the director intended the viewer to see as a complete shot experience. the same applies to colorization. it changes what the director had in mind, but it also crosses into *another* artist’s work, the cinematographer/director of photography (DP). Regardless of how “clear” someone has managed to make it, in comparison to the age of early colorization with gray halos and green teeth, the colorization of a film is still, in all actuality, changing the director and DP’s art/work. In many cases, films were *intentionally* made in black and white, even though color was readily available, because the story visually told in black in white often strikes the viewer differently than that of color. Hitchcock’s Psycho is an example of this, as is Paper Moon, and more modern films Dead Man, Good Night and Good Luck.

      to those who feel that B/W classics should be presented “in color” in order to appeal to younger audiences, i believe that thought is short sighted. the reason is because a colorized film originally shot in black and white will always look awkward. that awkwardness, blended with changes in culture, and time, and actors, and action and general content of films, will often deter viewers. i know…i was one of them. i was young when colorized films came out and i remember the first time i saw “it’s a wonderful life”. i sat there and was appalled by what i saw. i couldn’t quit looking at their weirdly colored teeth, or the grey halos, or how the shadows were strange and oddly colored. i felt the whole thing looked stupid and disliked the film because of how it looked! i couldn’t imagine what it was supposed to look like. it ruined a genuinely wonderful classic film for me and i eschewed classics for years because of that experience. only with the birth of vhs rentals, (early) amc and tcm a few years later did i begin to see *real* classic films in the way they were meant to be seen. that’s when i started developing a respect for the craft of film making, and i built a foundation on classic films. i began to notice how black and white films looked different one from another and was able to spot those skilled DPs who truly made masterpieces. (To name a few who perfected B/W film making: Sven Nykvist, Boris Kaufman, Joseph LaShelle, Gregg Toland, Asakazu Nakai, John F. Seitz, Robert Burks, Harry Stradling Sr., Rudolph Maté. There are more, but no need to list all “the greats”, but notice many also made color films as well.)

      there, i’ve spoken my peace. i’ve tried not to sound like a classic prude or purist, because i am not. i am simply a lover of film and a deep respecter of every person behind the camera or maker of what we see who had an image in their mind on how they wanted their work to be seen, from director to director of photography, daVinci to Michelangelo.

      For those interested in seeing great examples of B/W film making done exceptionally well to learn or further your appreciation of B/W films, I’d suggest: The Third Man, Psycho, Baby Doll, 12 Angry Men, Notorious, Streetcar Named Desire, The Devil and Daniel Webster, 8 1/2, Winter Light, Through a Glass Darkly, and Good Night and Good Luck.”

  • Colorized Historical Photographs
    I feel that both emlong and I have strayed far from the point that “Realistically colorized historical photos make the past seem incredibly real”. There will always be those individuals who see the past as something sacred that cannot be touched by future generations.I see these pictures of our past once colorized as an opening to our present and future generations to explore how their predecessors saw and dealt with the problems of their day, allowing we of the present to be as the title says “It’s just like Time Traveling” Every other aspect about Motion picture Film Colorization or coloring lithographs is totally jejune to this topic and should not be discussed again.(Although I feel someone else will feel they have to have the last word on this subject.) Thank you red pill junkie for providing a link to these pictures, it is one of the reasons I like to read

  • a caveat from Satie
    To me, the photos look colorized, rather than in color. They don’t bring the past more alive to me; they add another barrier, since the color doesn’t look real. I don’t really care if photos are colorized, as long as the originals are still available, but I do think b & w photos look better in b & w, and color in color.

    In the 1890s, the composer Erik Satie was photographed in what looked like a gray velvet suit. His biographers mentioned it, and a record of his music was even called “The Gray Velvet Gentleman.” Later, historians discovered paintings from the time that show the suit was mustard yellow — it just photographed gray. A caveat against trusting tinted photos!

    1. I have nothing against
      I have nothing against colorization per se as long as it is made clear that the photos have been doctored from the originals and have departed from whatever art or artifice was intended in the originals. Colorization may be an “improvement” in one narrow sense, but most pre-color photographers would not be happy about what was being done unless they themselves did it or supervised the doing of it.

  • Colorised photos
    Wow – really makes them more ‘real’ somehow. Makes you wonder why they didn’t invent colour photography sooner. Or smart phones for that matter.

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