We are so accustomed to the muffling effect of black and white – which now conveys, almost as if that were its original purpose, chronological distance, and which tells us, quietly but insistently, that what we’re looking at is over and done with – that its sudden removal thrusts us into a present, though not our own.
The effect of colorizing photos does much more than just add color to them: it brings them into the present. We’re so used to old photos being in black and white that when we see a colorized old photo, it looks almost contemporary.
Colourised photographs collapse time, flatten it, make a continuous present, if only for an instant, and our traditional defences against the past wobble. We can feel that it was real – and, in that instant, our comfortable insistence that the past is a foreign country becomes suspect. It could have been yesterday. He might have been me.