Old iconic photos colorized and brought to life

A very cool Facebook page by Dana Keller who has colorized old iconic photos. What’s really interesting is how human, how real, how alive, how now these people (and events) look.

I think the reason the page works, the reason it’s so impressive, is that you know many of the photos, and you expect them in black and white. It’s almost as if we think of history in black and white.

colorize old photos

The same way I think of the 1960s as being that funny color that was in my dad’s photos and home movies. You just don’t really think of the Hindenburg, or Abraham Lincoln, in color.

The photos are for sale, as prints, on this Web site. Very very cool effort. And very well done. Do check it out.

(If you’re not seeing all the images via the mobile template, you can click the “post” link under each entry to see them.)

Abraham Lincoln:

lincoln

Colorized by Dana Keller.

Mark Twain – I love this one. He looks like the Mark Twain characters you see on TV!:

mark-twain

Colorized by Dana Keller.

Waldwick Train Station, 1903 – I included this simply because of how real it looks:

waldwick

Colorized by Dana Keller.

Frederick Fleet, 1912. Lookout on the Titanic who saw the iceberg. Again, I liked the way the color just brings life to the photo:

titanic

Colorized by Dana Keller.

iceberg

Colorized by Dana Keller.

The Hindenburg Disaster, 1937 – another photo we just think of in black and white. Check out the detail of the people on the ground:

hindenburg

Colorized by Dana Keller.

H.G. Wells, 1930:

hg-wells

Colorized by Dana Keller.

And the original H.G. Wells in black and white.

Marie Curie, 1905:

marie-curie

Colorized by Dana Keller.

Nikola Tesla and Walt Whitman (who I don’t believe were a couple) – that Tesla photo is amazing:

walt-whitman-tesla

Colorized by Dana Keller.

Audrey Hepburn:

audrey-hepburn

Colorized by Dana Keller.

Lewis Powell, 1865: Lincoln Assassination co-conspirator. This one blows me away. 150 years ago. Look at that face:

lincoln-assassination

Colorized by Dana Keller.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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  • PuffyTheMagicDragon

    Thanks, good idea. :)

  • Whitewitch

    Totally the future!!

  • http://www.zazzle.com/fierylocks FieryLocks

    Thanks! :)

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Yes, that is noticeable. Except that little girl on the left—now that is a face of the future….questioning, brave, unafraid, and certain in herself.

  • LanceThruster
  • http://www.newmillgay.com/ The_Fixer

    You know, what you said made me realize what was off about these pictures. Don’t get me wrong, I like them and find them fascinating. But you’re right, they all do have the same skin tone. I always thought of Lincoln, for example, as being a bit darker in complexion.

    Then it hit me: They all look like they are wearing TV makeup from the 1960s or 1970s. I watch some old TV shows on MeTV, and the effect is the same.

    Regardless, the colorization does make these people seem a bit more real. After all, we do see in color (or at least most of us).

  • http://twitter.com/okojo okojo
  • JLSR

    I think the picture of the Lincoln assassination conspirator looks like he could be someone from a rock group now!

  • http://www.zazzle.com/fierylocks FieryLocks

    Thanks for that link. :)

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I agree, something about the skin sheen is a little off, but it was her eyes that drew me in. No wax figure has that kind of depth and realism.

  • ComradeRutherford

    I will begrudgingly admit that Lincoln, James Powell and Billy the Kid are well, done and to add to the original material…

  • Monoceros Forth

    http://harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=61

    I’ve gathered from what little I know that Tesla was quite the charismatic showman in his day, dazzling audiences with his demonstrations of technological wizardry.

    It’s been credibly suggested that H. P. Lovecraft wrote his short story “Nyarlathotep” with Tesla’s public appearances in mind: Into the lands of civilisation came Nyarlathotep…always buying strange instruments of glass and metal and combining them into instruments yet stranger. He spoke much of the sciences of electricity and psychology and gave exhibitions of power which sent his spectators away speechless, yet which swelled his fame to exceeding magnitude.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Oh I think I’d like David in color :)

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Only reason I didn’t post her is I didn’t like the weird waxiness they gave to her skin, looks like Madame Tussaud’s to me.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Except I’m not looking at them as art. Especially for the historical figures, or historical events, they’re history to me – or at least that’s how I’m looking at them in this post. It would be the same thing as taking an old historical photo and touching it up, getting rid of the creases and lint, and then lightening it to reveal things we didn’t see before. That’s how I see the colorizing here. It’s providing a window into the soul of the photo. And it’s a window and soul we didn’t know existed.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    The prints are cheap as photos, only like 9 bucks, but she doesn’t include Marie Curie on her site – you should email and ask.

  • Indigo

    Air-brushed, in other words.

  • Indigo

    It tells us their story in our contemporary frame of reference and that’s fine, but I prefer the marble statues.

  • Whitewitch

    Such haunted eyes in the parents – the children look a little less traumatized.

  • Whitewitch

    Such a beautiful and striking woman…the black and white does not show her radiance.

  • Whitewitch

    So much “texture” in these pictures versus the colorized films. very different indeed.

  • Whitewitch

    The Lincoln picture is amazing…look how worn and tired he seems. You can totally see it in the detail. I like these very much…it some how brings out the humanity of each of the people.

  • Whitewitch

    Perhaps.

  • SkippyFlipjack

    Disagree. These aren’t art shots, they’re part of the historical record, and they’re not being replaced by the colorized versions they’re being augmented. I was skeptical at first but they’re really first-rate jobs — exactly what Ted Turner’s colorized movies wanted to be but weren’t, at all. It’s hard to really relate to people in black and white daguerreotypes because the people in the photos don’t seem like us at all. The artist who colorized these photos bridged that substantial gap fairly successfully. I like it.

  • http://www.zazzle.com/fierylocks FieryLocks

    Nikola Tesla was gorgeous!

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I’ve had a crush on the guy since the age of six.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Tesla—so intense, brilliant and handsome.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    David…Ok so so doesn’t move me.

  • keirmeister

    It’s always fun to see this sort of thing, but what bothers me about these colorized photos is the same thing that annoys me about colorized movies: Everyone has the same skin tone.

    Stand two or three caucasian people side-by-side and you’ll see that one may have pinker skin, while another’s skin has a tan hue. In these colorized photos, almost all of the subject’s skin tone are the same. Even the picture of the black family shows them with essentially the same skin tone.

    Although it’s fascinating seeing how the color brings out some of the detail (I particularly like the Lincoln shot), the similarity of skin tone is not natural outside of a Bel Ami porn shoot.

    Perhaps I’ve said too much….

  • dave3137

    would we like “David” if he had a “colorized” body?

  • emjayay

    Original Technicolor was three-strip. Using color filters, three strips of B&W film were exposed and then used to make the final print. Super analog color. If Drew saw washed out colors, that is because of the deterioration of color film over the years or the limitations of color printing then. An original Technicolor shot film should be able to be reprinted or done digital without compromise, since B&W doesn’t deteriorate like a color print can.

  • Anonymous

    While these colors are not exact, they add a “life” and humanity to the historical figures. It’s somehow easier for me to relate to them this way.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I know. Went right through my soul, they did.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Interesting point. The Venus de Milo has become as kitsch an icon as the Mona Lisa. But, when I first saw her standing in the Louvre, I was absolutely stunned by her beauty and presence. Over the years I would return to Paris and check to see if that would still be the case. It was. That masterpiece of femininity is Olympian.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Wow—those eyes.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    I agree. The old black and white cinema was highly advanced, even to the point that it had complex ‘color’ of it’s own through value, tone, and contrast. I feel differently however about portraiture. That image of Lincoln was deeply compelling—-an extraordinary face.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Well, I can’t speak to the 50s, but the 1960s and early 70s featured some of the most eye-popping colors in the palette, especially in fashion — but also in home decor.

    However, film and photos from back then — especially consumer-level stuff — struggled to reproduce those colors in reasonable fidelity. Seeing a movie in ‘Technicolor’ (remember that?) was a big deal.

  • PuffyTheMagicDragon

    I want that one of Marie Curie. Her story was my childhood dream.

  • Drew2u

    I always wondered if the 50s/60s (and some 70s) were as drab and washed-out in color tones as film portrays it as or if it’s simply just to give the decade an air of “old”.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    Amen brother. I have made it a personal policy to not watch a colorized movie. As far as the stills go, I’ve seen some amazing black and white photographs that I would consider masterpieces.

  • ComradeRutherford

    As a visual artist, I disagree with this entire concept, just as I disagreed with colorizing movies back in the 1990s. The original artwork is just fine and doesn’t need ‘updating’.

  • GeorgeMokray

    Nikola Tesla had a hard time with people touching him. He had a phobia about germs. Women, historically, threw themselves at him and he fended them off. I suspect he fended off the men too.

    Now, Walt Whitman, that’s another story. Whether he and Tesla ever met I doubt. However, Tesla and Mark Twain were good friends.

  • maria

    This even look better than the earliest colorized movies. Ted Turner blew a lot of money ruining classic black-and-white films years ago.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Oh that could be cleaned up much better – Oh didn’t seen the cleaned up version!

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I found the Amelia Earhart photo to be especially arresting:

  • Hue-Man

    These look much more life-like than the colorized photographs we had from the 1930s and 1940s. The coloring of the cheeks was especially unrealistic.

    It also reminded me that marble statues from antiquity were painted, typically in what we would consider to be gaudy colors. I’m sure our cultural perception of “Venus de Milo” would be radically different if she and her clothing were brightly painted, rather than the chilly white stone we’ve grown used to.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    What really makes this work, as opposed to other colorization efforts I’ve seen over the years, is Ms. Keller’s choice and use of color is extremely restrained. It looks to me like in many of the photos, she’s applied the color, and then desaturated it.

    That way, to the eye, we see the color, but we don’t (pardon the caps) SEE THE COLOR. It’s not at all distracting, and probably for many of us, unconsciously we still think, “Oh yes, that’s an old photo, so of course the color is a little faded.”

    Like with the Waldwick station picture up there. Where someone less skilled might be tempted to make the sky and that one girl’s dress really blue, instead, Keller’s hues are far more realistic. Or the station walls — sure they’re yellow, but they’re slightly browned and grimy yellow, just as it would actually look a year or so after having been painted.

    I personally love the Tesla photo. :-) But of course lots of folks already suspected that would be the case.

  • cole3244

    annie oakley looks amazing i would like to see a front view of her, thanks for the info.

  • pappyvet

    Brilliant ! The first of this type that I saw was a reconstructed and enhanced copy of the Billy the Kid photograph. It was done by Alexandra Hamer of the only known photo of the Kid which is in pretty poor shape. Love the work.

  • Cletus

    BTW, I tried to delete the above comment and add a picture, but it stuck around as “Guest”?

  • Cletus
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