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Film colorization

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Technology has given us an incredibly wide-ranging view of modern presidents; chief White House photographer Pete Souza’s images of Barack Obama show him in countless locations and situations, from meetings in the Oval Office to candid shots of the president eating ice cream with his daughters on vacation.

The photo archive of Abraham Lincoln, the subject of this week’s cover story, is a much smaller set due to the technological limitations of the time; most of the existing photographs of the 16th president are posed portraits, the majority of which only show Lincoln from the chest up—and all are black-and-white.

But TIME commissioned Sanna Dullaway to create a more vibrant document of Lincoln through a series of colorized photographs produced in Photoshop. After removing spots, dust and scratches from archival Lincoln photographs, Dullaway digitally colorizes the files to produce realistic and modern versions of the portraits, which look like they could have been made today.

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.

Since that first experiment, Dullaway has continued to colorize a wide range of historical figures, including Albert Einstein, Che Guevara and Teddy Roosevelt, each of which has generated viral buzz online. She’s also used the approach on a number of iconic photographs, such as Eddie Adams’ harrowing image of a Vietnam police officer the moment before he’s about to execute a Vietcong prisoner. In each of these renderings, Dullaway’s use of color is subtle and sophisticated—yielding images that maintain the photographic integrity of their originals, while presenting a look at how these photographs may have come out had color photography existed at the time. That nuanced ability to handle color runs in the family; Dullaway’s father is painter.

The images take anywhere from 40 minutes to three hours to produce, and for the young artist, it’s a way of bringing a contemporary perspective to older works. “History has always been black and white to me, from the World War I soldiers to the 1800s, when ladies wore grand but colorless dresses,” Dullaway says. “By colorizing, I watch the photos come alive, and suddenly the people feel more real and history becomes more tangible.”

Lincoln is at the heart of her next project, a book of Civil War images rendered in color. “I felt like it was a good place to start because the war is well documented in the Library of Congress and started roughly around the same time the camera was first used commercially,” Dullaway says. “And a war offers to chance to cover many subjects at once, and present the events of that time as our eyes would see it today—in color.”

Sanna Dullaway is a photo editor based in Sweden. See more of her work here.

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Photo: Dorothea Lange | Colorization: Sanna Dullaway

The photograph that has become known as "Migrant Mother" was a 32-year-old mother of seven children photographed in February of 1936 by Dorothea Lange.

Photo: Alfred Eisenstaedt | Colorization: Sanna Dullaway

LIFE's Alfred Eisenstaedt captured this scene amid the joyous chaos of August 14, 1945, his "V-J Day in Times Square" has become one of the most famous photographs ever made.

By Jon Sweeney, Sr. multimedia producer

 

When Swedish artist Sanna Dullaway colorized a series of historical works from the likes of Eddie Adams and Dorthea Lange her intent was not to re-create history or take credit for adding a new twist to these historical images. She was just showing off her talents as an artist in her personal blog (see more images from her series on imgur).

Photo: Eddie Adams | Colorization: Sanna Dullaway

Vietcong Execution in Saigon in 1968 was one of the most iconic images of the Viet Nam war.

“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.”

"I felt the famous photographs would  best reach and touch everyone who saw them," Dullaway continued.

When colorized images went viral, with websites like Gizmondo writing about her works, she realized the impact of what she did. “I never claimed them being my own work nor did I want to ‘improve’ or ‘replace’ them as some people might want to think.”

When Dullaway realized that she might have infringed on copyrights, she immediately took the images down from her blog 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.”

Needless to say her images are out there and alive on the internet, and as I look at the manipulations, I have to wonder  how many times can history be re-written and when does a piece of art ever stop being modified?

Gizmondo blogger Jesus Diaz wrote today that these colored famous photos are so much more powerful than their black and white originals, but I have to disagree.  Eddie Adams photo of the execution captured on the streets of Saigon is more powerful, because it is real. That black and white photo raised the global conscience about the conflict in Viet Nam, and helped bring an end to the war. Color or not it’s one of the most important photos of the 20th century.

I understand that these images were done not to modify history and should only be taken as entertainment. It’s not the first time that works of art have been digitally altered and it’s definitely not the first time black and white classics have made the leap to color. I remember the first time I saw Ted Turner's colorization of Casablanca. It looked unnatural and like many others I preferred the black and white original. However, on a completely different tune, when DJ Dangermouse mashed the Beatles White Alblum and Jay-Z's Black Album to create the Grey Album, I had to commend the creativity. But that's art of a different color.

Ultimately for Dullaway, her experiment got the job done. People are talking about her new colorization business, around the globe, and in this day and age, that’s more than half the battle for an artist. The ability to self-promote is important and she should enjoy the buzz while it lasts, because after it’s over, an artist needs to stand on their own talents and not gimmicks.

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What do you think? Discuss this post in the comments section or hit me on Twitter @sweeneyjon.

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