Dana Keller bridges the worlds of art and archival science by colorizing historical photographs—relying on research and Photoshop.
(gentle piano music) - I'm Dana Keller. I live here in Boston, Massachusetts, and I colorize historical photographs. I think just the mystery of a black and white image is that it feels like a part of it is hidden. We feel separated from it because of the lack of color 'cause we live in a full-color world, so black and white is not really an accurate representation of where we live.
So by introducing color, it helps to make it feel like it is a real piece of the past that we can connect to. Photoshop is at the core of bringing these details back and bringing out these details that were otherwise lost and have been faded over time.
With black and white you might not notice certain details that are present in the original photographs, so color helps to create that depth and bring out those details in the walls and the backgrounds and textures that go unnoticed in gray values alone, but the color helps to separate those things and to really bring that realistic punch from the original.
When I first started getting into archival science, I started finding all kinds of old footage and old photographs and so that got me really interested in different types of photographs, different mediums, different decades, and I'd come across some colorized photos people had who had been really interested in these different points of history and decided, hey, what would these look like in color? They seemed pretty flat, pretty monotone, but I'd also had a background in photography and I was able to see the effects of lighting and texture and different mediums as well had different qualities of color, so I decided to maybe see if I could emulate that within these colorizations.
So taking those details into account helps to produce a more realistic image. So in order to create a realistic image and to also be respective of the history, you want to try and be as accurate as possible with the color.
So that includes a lot of research. They're not just applied willy-nilly or just to be this is what I think this color should be. A lot of research goes into finding what the true colors would be whether that is a military uniform or advertising signage or appropriate colors for the era as far as clothing. You can't obviously research every single thing, but when it comes to choosing colors and not knowing, it's important to have a cultural context, an historical context, of what's appropriate for the time.
So I'll generally separate out the layers by object or by color, so I'll have all the skin tones on one layer slowly building them up using different pinks and yellows, depending on the lighting. And the same with clothing, I'll lay down a foundation of color and then apply the details later when it comes to shadows and highlights. Nothing is just one color. If it's a dark gray or a dark black or a light gray, they're not gonna all be green if it's grass. There are gonna be some yellows and reds in there, depending on the value of the tone.
So it's important to realize that it's not one broad stroke overall. In order to bridge the gap between the art world and the archives world, there needs to be a sense of storytelling as well as authenticity.
By introducing as much factual knowledge into this colorization process as possible, it helps to preserve that authenticity, and to make it that much more realistic because it is an attempt to bring an accurate past to life. Images that turn out really well are the ones where we can look at them and forget that it's a colorized image. And not that it's meant to deceive you, but if it's drawing attention to itself as a colorized image then I think it's not done its job.
It's all about the history and not about the process.