These Stunning Colorized Historic Photos Make the Past Feel Like the Present

These Stunning Colorized Historic Photos Make the Past Feel Like the Present

Donna Patricia Ward - May 19, 2017

Photographic images bring history to life. Some of history’s most iconic images are in black and white. What if those images could be colorized? What if those images could be colorized while also being historically accurate to the photographic techniques used when the photo was taken? A Brazilian artist has done just that.

Marina Amaral colorizes historic images. Some of the images date back to the early days of photography and are sepia toned or black and white. Smart phone technology has permitted users to take photos of their friends using filters that make highly digitized images look like they were taken 100 years ago. The process of taking an old photo, digitizing it, and then simply clicking a button to colorize the image works well. Amaral wanted to go beyond simply colorizing a black and white image.

These Stunning Colorized Historic Photos Make the Past Feel Like the Present
Left: Dorathea Lang’s “Migrant Mother” photo from the Great Depression. Library of Congress. Right: The same photo colorized by Brazilian artist, Marina Amaral.

For Amaral, colorizing an image means making it look as it would have to an observer witnessing the photographer taking the photo. While this seems simple, it involves a painstaking process that forces Amaral to sit for countless hours at a computer as she digitally manipulates the color. She has stated that an image can take a few minutes to over a month to colorize. The first step to accomplishing her goal is to research how the image was taken.

These Stunning Colorized Historic Photos Make the Past Feel Like the Present
1916 Georgia schoolhouse. Colorized by Marina Amaral

Ensuring that an old image remains true to its history goes beyond just knowing how the photo was taken and developed. Amaral researches textiles and the colors that were used to make them. This requires the creation of new colors in a digital setting so that the colorized images can be as accurate as possible as they were on the day the picture was taken.

Pixel by pixel, Amaral colorizes the black and white photos “by recognizing the value behind each one of them, respecting and preserving their stories, paying attention to the finer details and maintaining their original essence.” Amaral has joined her skill as a master of Photoshop with her interest in history and photography to create a “second dimension” of the past.

These Stunning Colorized Historic Photos Make the Past Feel Like the Present
Mark Twain. Colorized by Marina Amaral

The United States Civil War was a watershed moment for photography. The well-known photographer, Mathew Brady, created a way to make the photo studio mobile. Prior to the outbreak of war, most photography happened in a studio. The long exposure time required made it impossible for photographers to take action shots. Instead, soldiers, married couples, and families sat for portraits.

In the controlled environment of the studio, people looked rather stoic, stern, and sometimes scary in their portraits. Brady was able to create a photo wagon that contained all the equipment he would require to take and develop the photos. His shortened exposure times and new methods in developing the photos was the equivalent to today’s smart phone photo applications. Now, Marina Amaral can add her name to the technical advances in photography. On the next page, take a look at six iconic images from history that Amaral has colorized

These colorized photographs give new life to old black and white photos and bring history alive.

1. Dead Confederate Solider in Devil’s Den

These Stunning Colorized Historic Photos Make the Past Feel Like the Present
Dead Confederate Soldier in Devil’s Den, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 1863. Timothy O’Sullivan, Library of Congress.
These Stunning Colorized Historic Photos Make the Past Feel Like the Present
A Dead Confederate Soldier in Devil’s Den, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 1863. Colorized by Marina Amaral

The image of a dead Confederate Solider in Devil’s Den at the Gettysburg battlefield is iconic and has been reproduced in thousands of books and stories about the American Civil War. Immediately following battles, eyewitnesses stated that they saw photographers moving dead bodies to create more dramatic war-time images.

While this debate wages on, there is a stark difference between the original black and white image and the colorized one. What Amaral has been able to capture, that people who have visited Devil’s Den will notice, is the harsh landscape of the rocks and its isolation. The men who ultimately died in Devil’s Den did so alone, without comfort, and often with the battle raging around them.

2. William Tecumseh Sherman, 1864

These Stunning Colorized Historic Photos Make the Past Feel Like the Present
General Sherman, 1864. Mathew Brady, Library of Congress
These Stunning Colorized Historic Photos Make the Past Feel Like the Present
General William T. Sherman, 1864. Colorized by Marina Amaral

William T. Sherman remains a hated figure for many with pro-Confederate ideals. Sherman has come to symbolize the might of the Untied States of America as he scorched and burned large swaths of the South during his March to the Sea campaign that ended when he gave the captured city of Savannah, Georgia to President Lincoln as a Christmas present in 1864. The black and white portrait of Sherman shows him as distant. Examining the colorized version allows the viewer to see deeper into the man that was capable of commanding such harsh military tactics on civilians in Georgia and the Carolinas.

3. Cree Indian

These Stunning Colorized Historic Photos Make the Past Feel Like the Present
Cree Indian, Maple Creek, Saskatchewan, Canada, 1903. Library and Archives of Canada
These Stunning Colorized Historic Photos Make the Past Feel Like the Present
Cree Indian, Maple Creek Saskatchewan, 1903. Colorized by Marina Amaral

The vibrant colors displayed by Native Americans and First Peoples has sparked the imagination of many children. Color photography was not widely used until the late 20th century. With the ability to provide historically accurate colors to the 1903 image of a Cree Indian, Marina Amaral has placed the vibrant colors used by native people on display.

In many ways, adding color has removed the savage stereotype of First Peoples from this Cree man. By removing the sepia tones of the original image and replacing them with vibrant color viewers may develop a better understanding of the native world that Europeans almost completely destroyed.

4. Holocaust Survivors

These Stunning Colorized Historic Photos Make the Past Feel Like the Present
Survivors waiting to be evacuated from the Wobbelin concentration camp to receive medical attention at a field hospital, Germany, May 4, 1945. US Holocaust Memorial Museum
These Stunning Colorized Historic Photos Make the Past Feel Like the Present
Survivors from Wobbelin concentration camp. Colorized by Marina Amaral

Images from the Holocaust and the liberation of the concentration camps provided documentation of the horrific actions humans committed upon each other. The sunken facial features and the black and gray-stripped attire emphasize how the Nazis viewed ethnic people as nothing but criminals. The colorized image provides additional layers of depth to the heinous treatment for those forced into the concentration camps.

5. Hiroshima after Bombing, 1945

These Stunning Colorized Historic Photos Make the Past Feel Like the Present
Hiroshima after bombing. US National Archives
These Stunning Colorized Historic Photos Make the Past Feel Like the Present
Hiroshima after bombing, US National Archives. Colorized by Marina Amaral

When the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan at 8:15 am on August 6, 1945, it killed an estimated 70,000 people, which included 20,000 Japanese forces and 2,000 Korean slaves. In the aftermath of the bomb, injury caused by radiation increased the death toll up to 90,000 to 166,000. Within seconds of the bomb’s impact, over 70% of the buildings in Hiroshima were destroyed.

The original black and white photo provides a sense of the devastation. The colorized version by Marina Amaral provides a human view of the destruction. People are walking around the rubble and appear to be moving items onto handcart wagons. While this is the same scene, the colorized version makes it easier to see what is actually occurring in the image, giving life to a scene of destruction.

6. The Burning Monk

These Stunning Colorized Historic Photos Make the Past Feel Like the Present
The Burning Monk. Photo Credit Malcolm Browne, June 11, 1963. Public Domain
These Stunning Colorized Historic Photos Make the Past Feel Like the Present
The Burning Monk. Colorized by Marina Amaral

The self-immolation of Quang Duc, a Vietnamese Mayhayan Buddihist monk, occurred in a busy Saigon intersection on June 11, 1963. The photographer, Malcolm Browne, won a Pulitzer Prize for this image in 1964. Browne stated, “No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.” Marina Amaral’s meticulous colorizing of the image provides an added level of horror by offering a better understanding for the desperation of the monk. The orange hues of the gasoline-fed fire are engulfing the monk while the onlookers have not yet realized or noticed what has happened.

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