When our kids were very young, we saw an old, very retro black & white TV in a junk shop. The shop owner had it switched on and it was showing Sesame Street. My son thought the TV was broken because it was all black & white – and he was so used to seeing color Sesame Street. I had to enlighten him that before he was born we only had black & white TV, not color. Using typical child wisdom and faultless logic he concluded “hmmm, the world must have been black & white in long ago before I was born…” (sic).
And it was, wasn’t it? “In long ago before I was born” we saw most images in black & white. Even though we had color film for prints and for slides, because of limitations in print technology, our newspapers where we saw some of the most compelling news images were in black & white. You could only record fast moving news and sports images on fast B&W film (400 ASA/ISO) like Kodak Tri-X . Color films just didn’t have that kind of speed performance yet. Magazines were produced in color & black and white – but still mostly black & white. We were used to it. And accepted it. It was our world then.
Fast forward to January 2012, and a young Swedish retouch artist has taken on decades of black and white history and recolored it. More specifically, Sanna Dullaway has unleashed a firestorm of controversy, recriminations, abuse and yes, a great deal of admiration too for her technical prowess in recoloring (or colorizing) iconic historical photographs.
Huffingon Post commented “…Sanna Dullaway, a Swedish artist who added color to a series of iconic black-and-white photos, is now receiving a lot of unwanted attention for her project. A week ago the artist wrote on Reddit: “I thought I’d show my best colourizations and some restorations that I’ve been doing for fun. Hope you enjoy!” But now some critics are saying that Dullaway has gone too far.“
Jon Sweeney wrote on the MSNBC Photoblog under the header: “Colorization of historical works, improvement or blasphemy?” When Swedish artist Sanna Dullaway colorized a series of historical works from the likes of Eddie Adams and Dorothea Lange her intent was not to re-create history or take credit for adding a new twist to these historical images. All Dullaway wanted to do when she posted a link on Reddit was to show off her talents as an artist. “I only wanted to show everyone a new perspective of the past black & white world.” She wrote in an email. “The sun shone on our grandparents too.”
When Dullaway realized that she might have infringed on copyrights, she immediately informed imgur to take down the offending material and apologized for her actions on her deviantart.com website. She added this to her status, “Please note I do not take credit for the iconic photos I colourized,” she wrote. “Focus on the photos, not me.”
Nikki comments on Faded and Blurred ” Old black and white photographs …are beautiful, sometimes powerful, but, for me, it is almost impossible to imagine what the people in the photographs were like in reality, to imagine that they existed, to see them walking down the same color-filled streets that we do. I can only picture a black and white world. Swedish artist, Sanna Dullaway has taken a number of older black and white images and brought them to life by adding color, and not just “colorizing”, but doing it expertly. Using them to promote her business as a photo restorer she is able to show an almost entirely new history. Lincoln is no longer just a historical picture on a page, but someone who actually lived, someone you could imagine shaking hands with. Churchill becomes someone you could share a cigar with. She has found a wonderful way to bring these historical faces into the present, without them appearing kitsch or cartoony.” (Harry’s note: I have added italics & bolding for emphasis)
I tend to agree. I went from old school film photographer who grew up with a Rollieflex, 6x6cm – 120 medium format black & white film, to Nikons and 35mm Tri-X, then into Kodakchrome and Ektachrome color which was amazing. And then the jaw dropping hyper vividness of Fujichrome which hooked me till the end of my film days. But I always accepted that black and white images I grew up on, were black and white images. Sanna Dullaway’s color versions, I think, don’t take away from the power of the original images but add a different context. A new reality.
Sanna does not ignore the older images and arrogantly present her own.
She always shows both respectfully side by side for comparison.
She is not even touting her own images as superior, nor claiming them for her own.
She is merely demonstrating, via images that are seared in our consciousness, her skills as a retouch artist, colorist and restoration artist.
As John Hutchinson at the Daily Mail Online opines: ” They say some things are be better off left in the past. But Swedish artist Sanna Dullaway clearly doesn’t agree with that concept as she has transformed some of the most famous black and white pictures ever captured into high resolution colour versions.
While purists may disagree with the modernisation of such historic pictures such as the celebrations that marked VJ (Victory in Japan) day, images of devastation from Pearl Harbour and the shocking shot of a Viet Cong prisoner being shot in the head by an army general (demonstrating the brutality of the Vietnam War), the colour pictures do appear to re-emphasise the scene they are portraying. She writes on her Flickr site: ‘Hi. I take coloured photographs. If I stumble upon colourless photographs I colour them.’ It couldn’t be simpler right? Yet the results are truly stunning“.
Based on what the world has seen so far and gone beserk in both directions: Well done Sanna! I’m sure there are many customers beating a path to her door.
- Sanna Dullaway’s flickr stream
- Sanna Dullaway on Deviantart
- Other colorization images on Imgur
- The Daily Mail Online story & large images
- Gizmodo stories on Sanna
- Read more about the ‘Migrant Mother’ photo
- Read more about the Eddie Adams image