How would you like to see a photo of the 1937 Hindenburg disaster in color? Rather than experiencing the destruction in black and white, how much more powerful would that image be if we could see the intensity of the flames against the night sky ? Well, thanks to the work of an increasingly popular online trend, now you can. And it’s not limited to the Hindenburg. Photographic colorizing is illuminating portraits of long-past world leaders, scenes from 1930’s US Great Depression, and the ever heart-breaking Thich Quang Duc’s self-immolation.
A number of photographers have taken to this challenge, and one company, Dynamichrome, explains the appeal of this change. They write:
Black and white photography can be an artistic choice, but with images taken before the advent of mainstream colour photography, it was usually the only option. As a result, historical photographs are a far less vivid depiction of the past. Skilfully restored and authentically colourised photos allow the viewer to connect with a past era and see details they never noticed before, bringing history to life and drawing attention to images previously unseen in full colour.
The colorizing of popular historical photographs isn’t something that is just for the professionals. There is a whole subreddit, History in Color, that features this practice. Obviously, some attempts are better than others. Regardless, when done well, it’s a powerful way to revisit history.
Mark Hunter Brown is a truly dynamic individual. I have known Brown for the better part of a decade, and I am relatively positive that I will never meet another person quite like him. With each day functioning more like the next chapter in a bizarre novel, his zest for life is infectious. Luckily, Brown is also an amazing artist, and has managed to document his interests and experiences through countless drawings and paintings. Though he gains inspiration from his travels, the work is not limited to the places and people he has actually interacted with. Brown is also heavily influenced by the written historical accounts of different cultures and people, but the work is not about visually representing his source material. Instead, he chooses to focus on the importance of the moments recorded history has chosen to ignore. There is this dead zone in between the great scenes of history that also warrants consideration, and Brown is keenly aware of this. When asked why he is drawn to this type of situation Brown replied, “because life doesn’t look like a Delacroix painting – it’s just people walking around and eating sandwiches. These moments seem more real to me…they’re equally compelling.”
While these scenes are not infrequent in his work, Brown’s practice is not limited to this type of subject matter. There is far less literal material in Brown’s oeuvre, and his vivid imagination becomes readily apparent when looking at paintings of huge figurative fortresses or anthropomorphized coo-coo clocks snorting bones off of a table. When viewed in context these paintings start to function as some sort of bizarre allegory, but their meaning is never explicitly stated. There is such a rich diversity in the distinctive worlds that Brown creates, and no piece is less detailed than the last. Whether he is teaching at Columbia, backpacking through Morocco, or boar hunting with monks in the Italian countryside – the need to process the world into visually compelling images has remained consistent within Brown’s life. Lucky for us, his mind seems to function like an endless supply of Google image search results that I have no desire to stop looking at any time soon.
Hailing from Houston, TX (home of the Geto Boys) and holding an MFA from Cornell, artist Mindy Kober paints scenes inspired by the images on the backs of those state commemorative quarters. Inspired is the operative word here – Kober uses a great deal of imagination in her humorous recreations of the scenes, often incorporating imagery from current American pop culture.