18 Iconic Black & White Photos, In Color

by Lara Rutherford-Morrison

As someone who is sort of obsessed with old movies, I love black and white film. I know that some people can, at first, have a hard time connecting to characters in black and white, but, at this point, I rarely even notice the lack of color, and when I do, it’s usually because the director is doing something cool with it (like this famous example from Alfred Hitchcock). Because of this, I didn’t expect to be particularly affected by colorized versions of historical photographs, figuring that they wouldn’t really influence my reading of the images themselves. Well, color me surprised (Ha! Pun very intended), because these photos are fantastic.

These images come from a subreddit called Colorized History. Many of the photos date from well back in the 19th century, and feature luminaries ranging from Abraham Lincoln to Audrey Hepburn. Most of us are used to seeing history in black and white, even the relatively recent history of the mid-20th century (Color photography was widely available by the 1940s, but it didn’t gain dominance until the 1960s). Seeing these photos in color gives them an unexpected immediacy; rendered in realistic color, faces I’ve seen in photos a thousand times, like Albert Einstein’s, suddenly seem more real and more human.

Of course, the main reason these photos are effective is that the coloring is really well done. Colorized History only allows certain users to submit photographs, and the quality (to my untrained eye, at least) seems high. You can see how the coloring is done in Photoshop with this tutorial from redditor /u/zuzahin.

Scroll through the images, and fantasize about be a time traveler. (Captions from Colorized History).

American nurse and social reformer Margaret Sanger, 1916
British tattoo artist George Burchett, the "King of Tattooists", ca 1930.
Japanese woman in kimono, c. 1920
Coca-Cola vending point at the Helsinki Summer Olympics. July 18, 1952
Film and fashion icon Audrey Hepburn, ca. 1953.
Theoretical physicist Albert Einstein, 1921
Louis Armstrong practicing in the dressing room, ca. July 1946
"Girls deliver ice." September 16, 1918
Drought-stricken farmer and family, August 1939
Baseball legend "Babe" Ruth, ca. 1920, the year he joined the New York Yankees
British author, Virginia Woolf, 1902
Edson Arantes do Nascimento, soccer legend Pelé. São Paulo, 1958
Miss America 1924
Cherry Blossoms, Washington D.C, 1925
Marie Curie, ca. 1905, pioneer in radioactivity research
Harlem Newsboy
Edgar Allen Poe, Great American Poet, 1848
General Robert E. Lee a week after surrendering to General Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the American Civil War - April 16, 1865

Image: Ferdinand Schmutzer/Wikimedia