« Sandy | Main | Important Notice About the Weston Books! »

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Comments

Ted, not Tim, Turner.

Not that this detracts from the quality of the rant...

Oops. Thanks Nick. Fixed now.

Mike

It just doesn't matter.

If folks like them, then your opinion-Judgement means nothing.

If folks don't like them, they will sink without a trace to mark their passing - other than your rant.

Moose

Brave I was. I looked at it until Lange's 'Migrant Mother'. Then I *had* to stop, just to avoid further damage to my brain.

I am a bit at a loss, why TIME considered this worthy of comissioning and publishing. For me it's like pouring dressing from a tank over everything b&w to get a broader audience for it. Nothing against dressing, and salad without it is hard to swallow, but a uniform sauce over everything just destroys your taste buds. But just look at the fast food culture all over the world: it's definitely what attracts masses of paying customers. And I see this in line with all those "-a-matic" tools, which invite to be used indifferently and can become a true pest.

To think a bit further: photoshop already can do "intelligent" things in replacing image parts. I bet there are tests running already with automatic colorizers that by far outclass even the worst of the work shown in this seriens.

Like today's food: sugar-laden and full of synthetic aroma for all those cauterized taste-buds.

This is as bad, no less, no more, as most of modern art. I see no major difference between this job and what Warhol did. If a couple of art critics will acclaim the "retoucher" as next Damien Hirst, and a blue eyed Lincoln will sell at Christies for 1.000.000 USD, then you will have another "nouvelle vague" on people's lips for some time.
Art has to be authentic, and it has to stand on its own.
Ciao
Marek

C'mon. This is very much setting yourself up as an arbiter of what is and isn't right in photography... I agree these colourised images suck the soul out of some of originals. Aside from historical inaccuracies - which is indeed deplorable - some are well executed and interesting. The Lincoln images are a bit of fun. Pity the colourist didn't do due diligence in accuracy. As an accompaniment to an article, they are fine. The more political and historically flammable (sorry) images should, indeed have been left alone. The main reason for this is not because they are good or bad (though they are indeed bad and in bad taste) but rather because the internet so quickly forgets. Soon image searches will have people convinced the originals were in colour and the B&W 'versions' are photoshopped. Oh dear...

She took those beautiful colour photos and ruined them by making them look artificially old and sepia toned.

This makes Madame Tussauds look tasteful, and that's a first.

Oh, it's amazing what you can do with technology. It doesn't mean that you should do it.

Most of it I just find a bit irritating, but the two pictures of men at or very near the point of death are just tasteless and disrespectful.

Not impressed.

While colorized old photos do not suit my taste, I really don't have an opinion on these.

History was never black and white, and each remembering changes reality.

For me, the colours did not make any of the photos stronger, but the Hitchcock was interesting.

However, they brought home to me that photos that I associate with terrible events (migrant mother / Anne Frank) are made cheerier by colourising them - and that is at odds with the feelings I have from the photos.

À chacun son goût and you start by declaring that what you are saying is what you think - according to your taste. But then you go on to make general declarations about why the prints are bad.

That's not a rant about something not being to your taste; it's a slamming, damning critique.

On reading this, the person who colourised the photos would probably stop up the windows, disconnect the phone, and go to bed to recover.

How does such a harsh criticism benefit people who read this column and might - in some future post be held back from submitting one of their own photos, as they were able to in November last year?

An atmosphere where someone can be targeted like you did engenders fear - and I do not think that is a nurturing atmosphere for any aspiring artists.

Here's a link to the The Five Finalists from TOP contributors last November.

My godfather, Tony Maston, used to hand colour portraits in his work as a commercial photographer in the middle part of the twentieth century, so I appreciate that colouring black and white photographs has its place. That said: the colour versions shown juxtaposed with the originals in Ctein's link make the strongest possible case for the often superior emotional power of monochrome! (If one were needed.)

Is it unforgiveable to say that I quite like the "American Way of Life" version ... ?

And: "The least visually offensive is probably the Hitchcock portrait." Well, that's the one that jars me the most - just because it is so obviously designed to be theatrically (or perhaps cinematically) sinister looking - the photographer (and of course Hitch too) knew exactly what they were after, and the effect only really works in black and white!

Beside the bad executed work, I found the buddhist monk and the Vietnamese murder an excellent example of bad taste and insensibility. And I consider my skin quite thick...

Poor work or not, she's hardly the first.
On the subject of colorization, I like the concept if not always the product because it challenges me to imagine the world as it really was--not black and white. I love b&w photography as art, and often appreciate the truths it reveals. But in revealing some truths it often omits others.
On the Lincoln portrait, there have been other colorizers, of course. A recent author devoted an entire book to coloring Lincoln: "Bryan Eaton's colorization of the Lincoln photographs stands as an excellent example of an 'a-ha!' moment of invention. We see his work and say to ourselves, 'Why didn't someone think of doing this sooner?' But no one had... I applaud his technical prowess, his organizational acumen, and his artistic aplomb in bringing Abraham Lincoln's immemorial visage into the 21st century. The book is a substantial contribution to the history of photography, of colorization, and of Lincoln iconography." (James Cornelius, Ph.D. Curator, Lincoln Collection, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library) (from Amazon)

It is horrendous. Someone has sprayed graffiti all over the historical record. Lets hope it can be removed without irreversible damage. I was laughing util I saw Migrant Mother and was no longer able to follow Morgan Consigny's advice.

It's the photographic equivalent of Kenny G dubbing his lame sax riffs over Louis Armstrong recordings. And I share Pat Metheny's opinion on both: http://www.jazzoasis.com/methenyonkennyg.htm

Toronto? How about we organize a meet-up for your Canadian fans (like me)?

I just threw up a little in the back of my throat...

Unlike Moose, I believe that everyone's opinion means something, and that sharing your opinion, along with pointing something like this out for others to form their own opinions, is a worthy endeavour.

Great, you fell for the hook to talk up Lincoln just in time to market another myth-making blockbuster for-profit movie. Why do we have to revere a war-mongering racist President responsible for destroying half the country and killing hundreds of thousands?

The colorizations are awful too, just not to the same degree as mythologizing a mass-murderer as a national hero.

*shrug*.

Yes Lincoln's skin-tone is probably off. Yes the mapping of tones between colour and black&white gives different emphasis to different areas, facilitating easier separation of objects in the scene or not.

But then again, she has painters in her family. Do you think Signora Gherardini was really #e9c662 (colour sampled from wikipedia image)? Does it matter? If the purpose of the original portraits was documentary not artistic, then there's little validity jumping on one's high-horse about artistic integrity of changing it after the fact. One has to be careful how much one's view of history is tainted by some photographer's choice of black&white translation - adding colour is a wakeup call against sentimentality.

I quite like the sailor-snog one. The others, yeah, *shrug*.

Growl! Sacred cows are sacred for a reason, my friends.

Just to be contrary (this is the Internet, after all), let me pose a devil's advocate position: the underlying photographs are some of the most important that I know of (exc. Hitchcock). If the exercise introduces folks to these images for the first time, well at least they are becoming more literate.

I honestly could not tell just looking at the pictures whether the colorization effort was intended to be ironically bad quality (as in; a dig at Ted Turner) or whether it was really a "best effort" sort of thing. The most appropriate response, perhaps:

Quote from Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Waterson:

Calvin: Dad, how come old photographs are always in black and white? Didn't they have color film back then?

Calvin's Dad: Sure they did. In fact, those old photographs ARE in color. It's just that the world WAS in black and white then.

Calvin: Really?

Calvin's Dad: Yep. The world didn't turn color until sometime in the 1930s, and it was pretty grainy color for a while, too.

Sad. Inline with the overprocessed crap proliferating all to much of contemporary imagery today.

Did a job recently. Client wanted color matched, so I took the time and did. Client rejected the job. After boosting saturation, changing the color balance, adding contrast etc. the client then deemed the job to be "natural and accurate". The reference MacBeth chart looked like a satire.

DOH. We can't even have Black and White Black and White anymore.

A colorized Migrant Mother? I draw my sword.

Abe's wearing make-up

AWFUL! Like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Brain hurts

Beyond the asthetically silly color job i find the choice of images baffling and wrong. Did we really need colorized verzions of burning monks and head shots? And lets leave Ann Frank alone. Her image turning up as a chair covering was just one of the recent, sad misuses of her memory.

Time Magazine has stolen something from me. I will not be able to look again at those iconic images without remembering this vile assault. So sad. It made me cry.

I like to fool around with colorization of some of my own 35mm images from the sixties. But I consider it to be a separate thing from photography. It's a new medium. It shouldn't be done as a "photo-realistic" attempt to alter the original image. Colorization can and does make a new entity, combining the original image with something else.

None of the altered images in this essay do that.

Hi I'm not intending to take sides - but I don't believe these were presented as an accurate depiction [ colour -wise ] of historic event, but as examples of someone's imagination.
As historic recordings they should not be altered in any way, but apart from that anything goes.
For me the only one that works is the 'bread line' shot, in which I think the billboard is the more important part [just] , emphasising and focusing on the propaganda, whilst showing the reality below.

Regards
Bruno

Two questions:

1) Would the same onus apply, more or less, to monochroming digital color photos? (That is, a digital photographer who has no intention to shoot film monochroming his/her own photos in-camera or post.)

2) If one were to monochrome a color photograph that doesn't belong to him and claim credit for the B&W version, can he be sued by the owner of the original color photo?

It seems to be the present world's need to 'see' EVERYTHING in colour. Our GB Sky channels are full of 'The *** in colour' using old film footage that would look far better in the original black and white that it was shot in. What's that saying we use now 'If it 'aint broke, don't fix it'!

Appropriate punishment:

Boiled in Marshalls™ photo-oils.

Yes these images are over the top. A few things pop out in the accompanying article though. The "artist" has been colourizing since way back in 2011.... I get the impression this must be the daughter (grand-daughter?) of the editor... "Aww, isn't this cute, maybe we should print it out and put it on the 'fridge"

Tasteless or not (Ok, totally in bad taste), but that's not what really rang the bell for me on this one. The editors of Time, by succumbing to "because we can" digital manipulation techniques, are simply doubling down on how far modern digital imaging has come in terms of blurring the boundaries between paintings and photographs. At least with these absurdly manipulated images, knowledgeable people really do understand what the source images were. And for those who aren't familiar with the originals, the amateurish colorizing combined with other obvious retouching is a dead give away that the color content is imaginary and not to be mistaken for real-wold color accuracy.

Yet every time I see a photographer cranking out totally over-the-top HDR imagery with artificially saturated colors and unreal tones like the human visual system would never render, or photoshopping multiple images into a fantasy montage, or stitching panoramas together for "my image has more resolution than yours" bragging rights, that's when I have to step back, take a deep breath, and remind myself why I fell in love with photography in the first place.

Your rambling and, sometimes incoherent, rant against the art of colorization attacks my own sanity. Contrary to your opinion the colorizer's artistry is exceptional and in no way distracts or alters the composition, mood, or impact of the photograph original.

It's fine to offer constructive criticism, but this blog entry is just a series of negative attacks on something you obviously don't like.

I think these prove the maxim that just because one CAN do something, does not mean they should.

The only redeeming feature is that they at least resisted the urge to run the portraits through one of those wretched skin-smoothing plug-ins which make humans look like wax mannequins.

I'm actually not "appalled" which surprises me since I believe that colorization of b&w motion pictures should result in a life-sentence conviction.

But I actually found some of these to be well-done with more restraint than you'll normally get from a 22 year old (or, worse, a 60 year old!). Sure, some sideswipe kitsch. But many really do shine a new light on old images. In particular:

# 1 Lincoln at Antiedam is an interesting perspective.
#11 Lincoln portrait seems shockingly contemporary and casual!
#13 The famous Eisenstaedt kiss is, well, eye-catching but…I agree...eeeewwww! It never occured to me that tongue might be involved.
#17 Hitchcock portrait is fine. It looks like the 50's Kodachrome in color.
#21 Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother is interesting in color! Again, it looks like a Kodachrome palette.
#23 Margaret Bourke-White's "World's Highest Standard of Living" is also interesting rendered in color, although I do prefer the grim hopelessness of b&w for the image.

To understand your reaction, Ctein, I need only remember Ted Turner's former, and mercifully short-lived, campaign in the 1980's to colorize many of the most significant b&w films in his (then) newly-acquired film library. I was sickened when I heard of it.

But this is pure novelty that does not threaten the original works. The renderings add an interesting contemplative dimension for me although I prefer the original monochromes in all cases.

I find myself far more annoyed when I see someone take a lovely new image (of their own) and crush-and-juice the life out of it in search of some faux emotional legitimacy.

Heed Ctein's warning! Don't look!

I chickened out as soon as I hit the candy-coloured Alfred Eisenstaedt photo. There are some things that, once seen, you cannot unsee. Like A. Lincoln rouged up as though he were being impersonated in a drag review by Paul Newman.

OK, I exaggerate, but ... feh.

"I'll be on a plane to Toronto for two weeks starting today;" Welcome to Toronto, Ctein. But if your plane takes two weeks to get here, you need to choose another airline. Enjoy your visit to our great city.'~)

P.S. your mouseover caption on the Lincoln photo made me laugh out loud. At work. Thanks again, Ctein.

Well.

Someone's sacred cows have just been slain.

That said, I don't think it's necessarily the colourization that I ultimately found problematic (I was actually quite stricken by the portrait of Lincoln with elbow on desk), but it's the motivation.

The artist "began colorizing images in January 2011, when she was listening to the debut album by rock band Rage Against the Machine. The self-titled album’s cover art is a black-and-white picture of a self-immolating monk taken by AP photographer Malcolm Browne. “I thought the normally fiery flames looked so dull in black and white, so I…looked for a way to make them come alive,”

Dull? Is that all there is? A sugar relief for dullness? Bringing black and white to a normality? When so many of these photographs are also good work AS black and white? Oh, and who still listens to RATM in 2011 anyway? People who prefer to enforce normality, it seems! But I digress.

There is a certain school of historical research that believes in the most precise re-enactment of past events as an vital way of culling information about them. If you want to understand medieval people, try living in their conditions for a while. It's a form of "anthropological field study of the past" with all the biases that it also involves, and inherent limits.

With photographs, I can admit that when the point is trying to gather information about the past and reconstructing colours in order to have more, or better information, I can see the point.

The problem is that here it's just about being un-bored. Sheesh. I don't think Anne Frank's photo or Migrant Mother needs to be "less boring," and therein lies the sin. Other than that, it could have been harmless fun, of the "what if..." kind.

I mostly agree with you, but I was surprised at how a few of them, particularly the one of South Vietnamese Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan shooting Nguyen Van Lem, appeared exactly the same to me as the B&W versions, and had I not been told beforehand that these are colorized versions, I might not have immediately noticed. I think it's only a testament to the power of B&W in its ability to create color in the imagination.

if photo is image now and he could be just a vampire per a recent movie, why not blue eye ...

gave up long time ago to say what is real and what is not by using photos for other than news

Hey, this is America: schlock sells....

Maybe it was the make-up and the blue contact lenses.

For comparison, consider the "photomechanical" color reproduction of a classic Roman statue of Venus, published in Smithsonian Magazine (Nov.2012, p.13), based on detailed analysis of pigment fragments on the original statue. The Romans and Greeks painted their statues, and the white marble we see is the result of pigment loss. I'm curious as to how well others think this process works?

Beyond banal. Like taking ketchup to a four-star restaurant.

I don't see the drama here. They most certainly are not meant to replace the originals, and as much respect as I have for B&W (have been shooting nothing but for the last 30 yrs, these do give us a better idea of what the reality did look like (I don't think she did that bad a job- certainly no worse than some of the original hand tinters of their day).

Because of our familiarity with the medium, we often forget that B&W distorts reality like no other medium. A fun and/or forgettable exercise at worst.

Finally, a day that I'm actually glad that I'm colorblind!

But you know, Ctein, it is Halloween.

I agree with you that the last photo is beyond horrible. Only a butterfly and rainbow are missing from the photo.

The photos from Vietnam and Tibet are equally monstrous.

Frankly, only a fundamentally immoral person is capable of such producing such work.

"Beside the bad executed work, I found the buddhist monk and the Vietnamese murder an excellent example of bad taste and insensibility. And I consider my skin quite thick..."

Andrea,
And not that infinitely touching surviving portrait of that poor doomed Jewish girl? I was joking with Ctein that I'm surprised the retoucher didn't give her blonde hair and blue eyes...(okay, that's in poor taste too).

Mike

I made it to the end, but the burning monk was what really put it over the top. Yes, let's use an utterly horrifying image of the ultimate protest against an unjust war as a page in a coloring book.

I'd say I want brain bleach right now, but I kind of want to use this as a benchmark for tastelessness and ineptitude in the future.

I'm thinking that the Hitchcock photograph would make a terrific dye transfer print.

I think Time is about to lose their printed mag, and need some junk to get people to pick it up, buy it or read it. Let's face it the online world is here now and newspapers and magazines need to really shock us to get attention.

I make and sell hand-colored black and white photographs online, so I actually have some slight grasp of the aesthetics of coloring.

Subtle is good. Loose and non-literal is good. The color can be an interesting counterpoint to the graphic structure of the original BW image.

All I can say about this work is, what were they thinking?

Your Inner Yahoo post implies that all art means something to someone (presumably, at least to the artist) and therefore that it should not be dismissed. Here, the 22 year old colorizing artist states “By colorizing, I watch the photos come alive, and suddenly the people feel more real and history becomes more tangible.”

How many monochrome images (or even movies) has a 22 year old seen these days on average? What does it mean that she connects with an artificial colorized picture but not the mono original? Or that Time recognizes this potential audience? Or that, at the same time and moving in the opposite direction, less-than-photorealistic Instagrams and intense post processing are all the rage?

Perhaps this will be of interest to some one. The Migrant Mother family made it California and the girls took care of their mother as she aged. The link below goes to a Tmblr page which contains photos of the mother and the girls taken in 1979..(and yes it is black and white)

www.tumblr.com/tagged/florence-owens-thompson

Me thinketh the gentleman doth complaineth too much

For a moment there I thought it was Mike's article .. no .. no .. it's Ctein! On another note, isn't it funny that in my mind, there are many photos that I take where I think it might work better in B&W, but rarely in the other direction. I guess if you've taken a photo with B&W in mind, it's hard to back track ...

Pak

I disagree.

yes but you can do better b&w conversion with the colored files!

The saying, "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should" fits well here.

What I don't understand is that some of the pictures look colorized to match the film stock of the day. A few had a Kodachrome look.

But then, what item really had the 'Velvia' look of the 80's and 90's?

I can only see the first slide in the slideshow, but that, and the description there, and here, is enough to make me cringe and shudder.

That it's actually TIME/LIFE doing this to its own legacy is astonishing, and may be the biggest outrage of all. The disdain for historical accuracy is just kicking us while we're down.

On the other hand, Ted Turner and the colorization fad of the 80's is a more ambiguous case for me. Tasteless and shocking as it was, so much good came out of it that I can't muster up any of the outrage I felt at the time.

Previously neglected prints and negatives were carefully restored, copied and preserved in preparation for those colorizing projects (and Turner wasn't the only one, just the most prominent). Much historical research was done on the productions. The controversy, inflamed by Turner's mischievous public remarks and irreverent attitude, led to the National Film Preservation Act, and to landmark court judgements.

(Unfortunately, none of this could stop a director from mutilating his own property, like a certain trilogy of science fiction fantasy epics.)

Perhaps not least, the controversy attracted new audiences to these old classics and raised public awareness about the existence and precarious state of a cultural legacy.

Turner wasn't stupid. He likely foresaw that any controversy and publicity around colorization would benefit his TV station, that the promise of profit would actually benefit movie archives, some of which he owned and some that he wished to acquire. Whether he anticipated it or not, the publicity also helped prime TV audiences for a cable channel dedicated to the appreciation of cinema classics as they were intended to be seen. The Turner Classic Movies channel's mission statement was all about original artistic intent, and even specified "non-colorized".

Sorry for the digression. This is all just to say that TIME's colorization project won't have any such benefits, or raise a fraction of the fuss, because it doesn't have anywhere near that kind of import. It's just a juvenile exercise. Especially so in this day and age, when so many kids have the means and ability to do this for themselves.

Hmm, colours are about as accurate as Velvia ;)

Since when did colour accuracy figure in art? Even Canon and Nikon can't agree on skin tones.

I agree not all of it was well chosen, but it's just an exercise, not a judgement. The fact that the emotional impact and focus changes simply makes the point, that monochrome and colour images have different emotional properties and context.

The fact that people find the burning monk more offensive in colour shows that in some contexts black and white is inadequate to the task. What is supposed to be not shocking about this picture?

Stunningly trite and inappropriate colorisation. Does the colouriser want some recognition for a pop art take on such (largely) soulful mages. Play around with this in your own home but don't present them to the world, for Pete's sake. Do something original that has the power to hold the attention of generations of viewers, stop exploiting images, it ultimately devalues them in the perception - which can be varied - of what they represent. (This is all too easy).
Mark Walker.

"Virginia Woolf is often depicted as a dreamy, effete snob, agonizing all day over a single adjective while sipping tea…." (Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune, November 2, 2008)"

From Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of effete.

Dear Peter,

This is not impossible. It would have to be some time next week Monday through Thursday. E-mail me: [email protected]

No promises I'll have photos with me, though; getting artwork through customs can be a hassle.

pax / Ctein

It's sometimes hard for people to understand that B&W doesn't automatically denote a handicap. Anne Frank needed B&W, because part of the allure of the photo is the very darkness of it -- there seems to be a foreboding there that simply doesn't exist in the color, "Hi, I'm graduating from middle school" version. The same is true of the migrant mother, and several of the others.

So what we have here is simply an exercise in bad taste. And there IS such a thing as bad taste -- and those people who don't see much wrong with this, well, I'm sorry.

And for those who think Ctein was too hard on the young colorist (we don't really know whether she's a photographer, but somehow, I doubt it), well, this is how young colorists learn to distinguish the useful from the purely stupid.

And finally, this has nothing to do with Andy Warhol or anything he was up to; nor does it have anything to do with modern art.

I'd suggest adding lynching to the list of punishments...

Dear Sarge,

Seems to me you're asking two questions, one aesthetic and one legal.

First question: it's aesthetically tricky to do unless your original intent was to get to a monochrome photograph. Color compositions don't usually work well when converted to black and white. I could write a whole column about that, maybe I will sometime. It's not an absolute, Just that the odds are against it in any given case. In my portfolio, only one photograph ever turned out to be significantly better as a black and white, after I'd photographed it with color intent: http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2011/02/it-doesnt-matter.html

Second question: the mere act of changing from color to black and white or vice versa is not “transformative” under copyright law, so the result would be a derivative work and so prohibited without permission of the copyright holder. But… It might be part of a larger process that did make it a transformative act. Furthermore, for stock photographs such as these, the licenses rarely restrict how the photograph may be used. You're licensing someone else to use your property, but they can slice, dice, and muck with it as they see fit before reproducing it. SOP.

~~~~

Dear Gary,

I am extremely disappointed that my rant did not rise to the level of deserving that ultimate derogatory cliché: “arrogant.” Seeing as you thought it qualified for so many others.

A mere “unsatisfactory” grade doesn't meet my low standards; I will work harder next time to earn your full disapproval.

~~~~

Dear Paul,

That's part of what bothered me, was that there was a lack of irony or even postmodern sensibility. You can do this kind of thing to be arch. In fact, I can imagine a whole project that would be pretty hilarious and terrifying, taking classic old portraits and applying modern Hollywood sensibilities to them–– the wrinkle removing tools in portrait software, the plastic surgeon previewing tools to give Hitchcock a proper facelift and get rid of the bags under Lincoln's eyes. It would be fun in a over-the-top way. Then it becomes a societal commentary that can both appall and amuse at the same time.


pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
======================================
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 
======================================

"I'll be on a plane to Toronto for two weeks ". That's one heck of a long flight.

Bill

It's _not_ about improving aesthetics...

I thought the Migrant Mother example was interesting. I've always thought that the image glamourised the poverty in an almost quasi-religious way that is in no way true to to the set of images from which it is taken. A bit like some Victorian genre paintings of ragamuffins. To me the colourised version just moved it that bit closer to the chocolate box cover. I know it's an icon of American history, and of difficult times, so I apologise if I'm not paying the right amount of respect

Whether or not the exercise is useful or attractive is, I suppose, a matter of personal taste.

I don't see the point in the exercise. What I find disturbing is the lack of attention to detail. It seems these are being passed off as accurate interpretations of how these people looked, rather than as artistic renditions. If that's the case, then the lack of accuracy in the case of Lincoln is annoying at best.

I don't see any value in including Anne Frank, and if the same lack of research occurred then it goes beyond bad taste to being objectionable.

I just don't see the point.

Dear Bill,

They told me it would be the "scenic route".

I have been told the Martian canals are lovely this time of year.

Oops, they're calling for boarding. Gotta run.

pax / Ctein

Great post and discussion. There are two issues here: artistry and authenticity. It is safe to say that if some of the original images had been poorly done in color, they would not have become that icons that they are. Yet others would have achieved that status regardless of the medium. So, are people offended because the colorization sucks or because it is disrespectful of the creators of the original photos?

@John Holland - thank you for pointing out Ctein's mouseover caption; I would never have seen it without your assistance, and I was in need of a laugh today.

@David Bateman - I certainly hope TIME is about to discontinue publishing their printed rag. It's a crying shame to think that ink and paper would be wasted in an effort to monetize such drivel.

Other comments discuss the pro's and con's of colorization, how well she did or didn't faithfully follow historical evidence, yet other than Ctein, no one else has commented on the two facts that are screaming at me:

1. TIME Magazine somehow has determined this is "news" worth reporting, and indeed spend money commissioning the young lady.

2. to quote the article,

--- The 22-year-old Swedish artist began colorizing images in January 2011, when she was listening to the debut album by rock band Rage Against the Machine. The self-titled album’s cover art is a black-and-white picture of a self-immolating monk taken by AP photographer Malcolm Browne. “I thought the normally fiery flames looked so dull in black and white, so I…looked for a way to make them come alive,” she says. Dullaway colorized the flames, and eventually, the entire picture. She then posted the image on Reddit, and it instantly went viral. ----

I'm certainly glad that my local art venues (Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Walker Art Center) use a more discerning criteria for selecting the artists they decide to exhibit.

I'll reserve my disgust and disdain for TIME and its editors - I wonder when they'll have a full "special issue" homage to Richard Prince and his "original" artistry.

Dear folks,

Just so credit goes where it be,kings, the column is 100% mine but Mike gets all the credit for the hilarious rollover on the picture.

pax / Ctein

Next the Stars sewed on Jews in WWII photos will be changed to Happy Faces and the Death Camp stripes will be red, white and blue or shades of pastels.

The Lincoln & Civil War photos look like colorized b&w to me - nothing that serves much purpose. The sailor shot looks realistic, but I agree with Ctein that, like the billboard shot, it loses something in translation (the colors change the composition in a bad way, even if the colorization was otherwise well done). The burning monk shot looks ok, except that the flames look like they were pasted in from another photo; they don't look like they belong in the same shot. The Vietnam shot looks realistic and no better or worse as far as impact IMO. All in all, I don't see the point - time spent doing something that serves no good purpose, and certainly don't see why Time paid to have it done, but OTOH, I don't find it remotely as objectionable as others. Certainly not deserving of a MOAR ;)

Whilst I agree that the choice of photos does get more upsetting as you progress, and that two or three of them are in downright bad taste, I can't help but admire the technical proficiency in the colouring - some of them are excellently done.

@ John Camp: "And finally, this has nothing to do with Andy Warhol or anything he was up to; nor does it have anything to do with modern art."

I had not considered the angle of appropriated presentation, John. But, at the risk of opening a still-moist (Rickard) scab, why could this not be construed as congruent with, say, Richard Prince? Add a little MFA-style artist statement, put it at a prominent NY art dealer, it gets bought by a few prominent collectors and is consequently publicized in ARTNews and voila we have a new "young talent"! And this young lady gets her college loans paid-off by Christmas!


Give the girl a break. She's 22 years old, and she's a pioneer of sorts. She created her own technique out of scratch. She's not a historian. I say she deserves some respect.

Now, maybe you'd like to take it up with Time for commisioning this work. I guess that would be reasonable. But still, I don't hear any serious critique other than :

a. The possible historic color inaccuracies
b. What I believe to be the main issue here, which is the superiority of black and white vs colour.

So yes. Artistically, these photos are inferior. I agree.
But the point of the feature was to give, I believe a more realistic depiction of the time, not a more artistic one. In this respect, I think the photos are doing waht they're supposed to do. Not an artistic experience. Just a different one.

Honestly, if find your rant slightly pretentious.
With respect.

Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with the artist whatsoever.

I actually don't mind some of them and agree with the comment about their making historical scenes more easy to relate to. Am I a heathen? Probably. Still - onward! Nothing stays the same for ever...

On a personal note, I thought it was really interesting at least to see photos I know well colorized; If nothing else, it's interesting to think about which version I think works better. (I haven't understood some people's undying devotion to B&W, but I'm trying... to understand it anyway, if not agree with it.) The Eisenstadt kissing picture in particular, I think, is somewhat improved. (As is the Bourke-White... I think the color to me shows more dissonance between the billboard and the people.)

One question for Ctein - if the colors in these had been slavishly researched and made as accurate as possible, would that make the exercise more valuable?

Do folks like their 1930s Depression in only Black and White?

I wonder if those that dislike the colorized Lange "Migrant Mother" also dislike the real FSA color photographs (1600 of them) at the Library of Congress. Google "fsa color" to find them.

BTW, the first shot of Lincoln at Antetum makes me think of a diorama model shots. I guess that "lack of depth of field" and spherical aberration away from the center just make me think "Model Village" art filter.

If you don't like 'em, you don't have to look.

I happen to think the photos are interesting. I like black and white photography but, to paraphrase another commenter, life happens in color. Aside from nitpicking about historical accuracy, this colorization shows the images in a whole new light.

Technically, I thought they are excellent.

I'm inclined to agree with Martin about the Lincoln photos. We're so used to seeing monochrome Lincoln that a colorized version is something of a shock, but it's the shock of recognizing this distant historical figure as a flesh-and-blood human. If colorizing a photograph helps us remember that Lincoln was another politician whose contemporaries mistrusted him at least as much as we mistrust politicians today, it won't be a completely wasted exercise.

This exercise is nothing more than a game for the colorist and a marketing trick for the publisher. While life may happen in color, photographs are not life. Rather they are life (or perhaps something else) filtered through the perceptions of a photographer responding to what is before him (or her) with the tools at his (or her) disposal. The underlying assumption that color is inherently better misunderstands the nature of the art. This is not Bach on modern instruments. In almost every instance, the originals feel more authentic as both art and history.

"It's sometimes hard for people to understand that B&W doesn't automatically denote a handicap."

And equally hard for people to understand that sometimes it does.

Oh dear I must confess that I quite liked them.

It will only be a matter of time before those images become 3D colour hologramtic projections with sound. I look forward to the howls of anguish that will release.

The comments to this entry are closed.