While black and white photography is an excellent tool for bringing out form and shade in images, it fails miserably at one aspect: reality. For the years before the 1960s – before color photography went solidly mainstream – we are left with imagery that often fails to look like it really happened. Thanks to modern digital colorization tools however, artists like Sanna Dullaway, Dana Keller and Jordan Lloyd are updating the past, adding back in the missing element of color and giving us a window into history that’s more real than ever before.
If you look at these images carefully, it’s astounding how much life has been re-injected into them. Eyes sparkle; skin looks warm and alive; and details which were once hidden now pop into view through contrasting hues. Perhaps the most impressive pieces in this collection pulled together by 22 Words are the oldest images from the 1800s. These examples show us famous figures like Walt Whitman and places like the Capitol of Nashville during the Civil War, all looking about like they were taken today.
The level of detail paid by these colorizing artists is admirable. Even looking at the small background details, one can see each as if it were originally captured on film. You can see many more examples of this growing trend in the book The Civil War in Color, or on sites like Dynamichrome, Past in Colour, History in Color, and the subreddit Colorized History.
Above: Unemployed Lumber Worker and His Wife, circa 1939
Below: The Baker nuclear bomb test at Bikini Atoll, 1946
Japanese Archers, circa 1860
View from the Capitol in Nashville, 1864 (find the man near the lamp post to convince yourself this isn’t today)
Oscar II, King of Sweden and Norway, 1880
Albert Einstein in Long Island, 1939
Baltimore slums, 1938
British troops board their train for the front, 1939
Walt Whitman, 1887
Mark Twain, circa 1900
Old Gold country store, 1939
Louisville, Kentucky, 1937
Kissing the War Goodbye, 1945
via 22 Words