photos

History: In Living Color

Lincoln-reddit.jpg

Every once in a while I come across a website that piques my interest. Some are cool, some are strange, and some are just down right fascinating. This one was both fascinating and frustrating, so I thought I would share and see what your thoughts are on it.

The website is for Marina Amaral, an artist who uses Photoshop to painstakingly add color to historical photos that were taken in black and white. To see her work, click on the link and then either click into the “Portfolio” or “Blog” pages. She does a fantastic job on the transformations through research to try and match the reality of the time the picture was taken.

It is cool to see photos that I have only seen in black and white come to “life.” It is fascinating to see the life flow through the people and places in the image. That part is cool and adds a sort of unknown depth to the photo.

HOWEVER, that is also the frustrating part as well!  One thing we have to be careful of is not letting these photos stand alone to become part of the historical record. I believe they are best viewed with the original photo, side by side. The reason is that we, in our search to “know” everything, tend to let changes to history go without challenging them. When we stop challenging them, they actually become the history we wanted to view through a different lens. Whether it is intentional or not, there has to be caution in such recreations of history. We can’t let the historical record change so that the only pictures we view in the future of these subjects are the ones that have had the color added.

Let me offer an example from personal experience. In the past, I have shown historically based films in my classroom. The first caution I have always gave before showing the film was that it was someone’s interpretation of the history, not the actual history – regardless of how well the movie was done and tried to follow the historical record closely. I always encouraged the students to study the subject further to find out if what they saw was accurately portrayed or not. The students used to complain, complain that the film was in black and white. “Why is it in black and white…”, “Isn’t there a film about this in color…”, etc etc. Their first inclination was that it was boring if there was no color, even if the film was a modern film but done in black and white for theatrical purposes (such as Schindler’s List).

Our students (and maybe our society as a whole) has a hard time distinguishing between fact and fiction, so studies show that Americans (and probably others) tend to think that what they saw in a historically based film is true. They accept it as fact. Thus, when we look at photos that have been colored in such a realistic and beautiful way, I am afraid the original photos will lose relevance in a world where “reality” and “facts” mean so little.

Does that make sense? Do you worry about the same thing? Or, am I just making a big deal out of nothing? What do you think?