Colorized historical photos and more podcast waffling.

Recently, I’ve noticed a number of historical black & white photographs, some of them quite famous, which have been digitally colorized floating around on the web.  This blog brings together some stirring examples.  On the one hand, I can get on board with this trend as a way to more easily identify with historical subjects.  There’s something about a black & white photo that feels like a barrier.  It feels like it is hopelessly removed from us, as a part of a distant and foreign past.  Like the beginning of the 1939 Wizard of Oz film (or Pleasantville for a more recent example), it’s almost as if the past really did look that way, until magically one day, light decided to act differently, and a dizzying range of color became visible. Of course we know better, and colorizing photos brings them closer, and we feel as though we can see things as they truly were.  [As a footnote, several classic b&w films have also been colorized.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_black-and-white_films_that_have_been_colorized ]

On the other hand, what does this mean for the future of digital media and museums?  Is it feasible to imagine a day in which a museum’s online photo offerings were reinterpreted in color?  Could this be considered just another way in which museums and photographic archives attempt to bring the past to life? If so, would the proliferation of this practice somehow devalue the original photos?  At the risk of overemphasizing the parallels, there are already plenty of young people (and some not-so-young) who write off black and white films as uninteresting and irrelevant.

Though color photos are easily desaturated in photoshop and b&w photography never went away, does the reverse action–effective colorization– affect the matter of authenticity in a new way?  In my mind it seems similar to other examples of historical photo doctoring such as the insertion of Boilerplate the robot into the historical record.

Obviously, I have more questions than answers on this subject, but I think it could inspire some rousing debate.

In other news, we are now one week from the due date for our podcast project.  I’ve found it really difficult to piece together an interesting narrative from these disparate interviews conducted by somebody else.  It was also overwhelming to me that I initially assumed I would have to quickly educate myself on not only the history of Jewish Louisville, but Jewish culture writ large.  Thankfully, my partner has put together some coherent groups of quotes that I think will serve us well.  For my part I think that the anecdotes about Jewish participation in the Heritage Weekends of the 1970s have come together nicely.  Hopefully the two parts will gel and make sense.  More on this later, as I’m sure this story will have a dramatic ending.

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2 responses to “Colorized historical photos and more podcast waffling.

  • Here, Have some History

    I agree with what you say about colorized photos. I think they are more appealing to look at than black and white photos, and I think they connect you with the past a little better. I think the practice of colorizing black and white is a useful tool as long as we remember this is not how the photos were seen in the time period in which they were created, it could lead to some anachronistic thinking. I think you also have to account for their accuracy. I do not know how people colorize photos, but how do they know what colors and hues to use exactly? But if we see it as a useful tool that connects us with the history a bit better then I think it is a great practice.

  • wienhusen

    I also have concerns about colorization, while colorization can be useful, it needs to be accurate and scientific, and I think it should be paired with the original black and white to maintain the context of where it came from.

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