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© Elena Dijour

Bringing History Alive With Color

Colorized photographs help bring history to life. Here’s how.

When we think about history, it’s usually in black and white. Because color photography did not become mainstream until later in the 20th century, despite first being attempted as early as 1861, our visual aesthetic of the past is stuck in monochrome. With the present filled with vibrant color, this representation has created a rift, an emotional gap even, between us and our history. We view the past as something almost alien, something we might find hard to properly relate to, or fully understand.

So what happens when we see the past in color? Colorized historic photos have taken the internet by storm, and for a good reason: Suddenly, the boundary of time is gone and we peer into the world so much like our own, albeit long gone.

Jordan Lloyd, of London-based Dynamichrome, is one of the obsessive perfectionists coloring history alive. “When you’re missing the color … you are looking at the entire composition as a whole, whereas when we add the color, you start looking at the photograph in a slightly different way — you start picking up all these really interesting details,” Jordan explains the reason behind this change of perception.

New digital technology has made it possible for artists to reconstruct images with much more accuracy than the old practice of coloring them in by hand. It is, however, as Jordan says, “A shitload of work.” It involves reading through historical material such as diaries, memoirs, government records and advertisements, and consulting history experts to make sure the colors and styles of the time are faithfully represented. Once the damage to the original image has been restored, up to hundreds of layers of color are added to the photograph and blended together. This is a slow, painstaking process. The longest Jordan has spent on a single photograph is nearly a month.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Elena Dijour