Tom Crewe · Colourisation – London Review of Books

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.

Source: Tom Crewe · Colourisation · LRB 22 March 2018

3 thoughts on “Tom Crewe · Colourisation – London Review of Books

  1. It depends on how they’ve been colored. Attempting to impose the vivid colors of modern photographs looks fake, and may only make us more aware of the manipulation.

    I have no problem being projected into the past through a B&W photo. Why is that so terrible?

    • It’s not; I have no problem with it either. But colorization is becoming popular, and it does raise some interesting issues about how we perceive the past. You’ve probably seen the colored photo of Abraham Lincoln; he is a totally different person from what we grew up seeing.

  2. There is a special place in hell for people who would colorize a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo like this one:

    People are just making it up as they go along. I recently saw a colorized historic photo of LA Pacific Electric streetcars. They were colorized as olive drab. Even the most minimal historical research would have revealed the reason they were nicknamed “Red Cars.”

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