Colouring by Numbers
When spending a summer holiday in the countryside, some years ago, I went to a farmer’s house and saw a B/W TV on with a rainbow filter over the screen; I became fascinated by the artificial colouring. As you can imagine, watching a movie with a rainbow filter over it is hilarious, as you could see James Dean going Rebel with a Cause: from red to yellow or purple in a moment.
But this reflects the need of people to see colours in everything as in real life: Yes, most people keep seeing everything in colours, no matter if under the effects of drugs or not. It has been our nature since some time ago.
In fact, that B/W TV with the rainbow filter was like watching a movie under LSD effect. (I can only imagine).
In the early times of photography, some people got the need of hand-colouring photographs, generally either to heighten the realism of the photograph or for artistic purposes. With watercolours, oils, crayons or pastels, anything would go. But even after the invention of colour photography (and movies!), people still have the need of hand colour them, and not only the vintage B/W photographs but also new B/W photography.
Some people go even further: they turn colour photography into B/W to hand colour them afterwards.
There are several techniques, from the most basic watercolour to some more lab ones and nowadays with Photoshop or any other image editor.
Japanese created new techniques and Russian too. In Arabian countries they started a school of hand painting photography as well as in Europe: It became an art. Photochrom techniques became trendy also: coloured images produced from black-and-white photographic negatives via the direct photographic transfer of a negative onto lithographic printing plates. (see “Notes on: Persian Photography” and “Notes on: Crossing Borders“)
But nothing like the old hand colouring processes.
Recently I found the wonderful work by Sergey Prokudin-Gorskii, a Russian chemist and photographer who pioneered a new technique of colouring photography. Here you have the whole work so you can learn and practice yourself: An Explanation of the Color Rendering Process, “Digichromatography”.
In 1909, he convinced the tsar Nicolas II to send him on a trip across the Russian Empire, to document its impressive diversity. It was a 10-year project, during which Gorskii took over 10 000 pictures, and it ended up outlasting the tsar himself, and the Empire for that matter, as the October Revolution swept away the monarchy. In 1918, he immigrated to Paris, where he died in 1944.
But we have Jan Saudek also, a more recent master in photography who hand colours them.
Now, if you really want to see the difference from a classic B/W well-known photograph, I recommend the work that has being done by Sanna Dullaway. I recently found an article on DailyMail where it’s visible her work over great iconic photographs like the ones done by Dorothea Lange or Alfred Eisenstaed. Worth to take a look. And read.
But usually there are some details in hand colouring to be “real artistic”: they don’t have to look real… they do have to be kitsch! So for that to happen, if you’ll try to do some hand colour, do NEVER forget to blush everybody’s cheeks!
Ask to Bette Davis!
your turn now: and if you get lost you can always colour by numbers…