In any profession there is that point you have to ask – have I gone too far? In recent years people have voiced outrage over musicians voicing their political opinions in music, is that going too far? In the case of Green Day, no because 95% of their songs are political. In the world of painting, did Picasso or Andy Warhol go too far? Both invented new art styles so again the answer would be no. What about YouTube stars who pull stunts and then spend weeks apologizing for what has turned into scandalous acts? Yes, you’ve gone too far. Now, what about this sensation known as vintage colorization? Can you go too far? Let’s go down this path with someone who is a vintage colorizer.
When the vintage colorization tutorial was dropped into Reddit back in 2010 or earlier, nothing was said about copyright images or anything like that. Basically the site let users know that all black & white images were okay to use. I’ve already seen where these out of control colorizers get in trouble because the photographer contacts them and says “I made that photograph black & white for a reason” or “I didn’t give you permission to manipulate my photograph”. This sensation started out as you colorize old photos, now it has bled into colorizing black & white photos from three days ago. No concept of a photographer’s desire to make the photo black & white, since it isn’t in color these kids will change that. This is the point of going too far.
Vintage black & white photographs, can there really be a point of going to far? Yes. There were certain photographers who used the strong aggression in Black & White photography to make a statement in their own photography. Ansel Adams was one of those people, colorizing his nature photography turns it into a Bob Ross painting. Dorothea Lange and her images of the Great Depression, colorizing gives a cheery effect and that’s not what those images are supposed to do. This was a time of sorrow, using bright and cheery colors destroys what these photos are trying to portray. Many colorizers have latched onto Lewis Hine’s images of Child Labor, myself included, but I believe there are a few of his photographs that should be left alone.
I’m sure by now you’re questioning me. Why should I wave a finger and call myself perfect? Never have I called myself perfect, the difference is in my years of colorizing I’ve built up a policy on what should be off limits. Copyright should be a given, tragedy I won’t touch, certain famous names are valid even today, and a few others I consider hands off. I’ve only been at this for six years so it’s still a learning experience but in that time I’ve prided myself on knowing these things. Moving on!
There are also colorizers who are colorizing film. Some are trying to mask it, so you the viewer are under the impression their work is from the Edwardian/1920s era. Don’t forget the famous film “From the Earth to the Moon” had a color version, and a black & white version. Color experimentation was happening back then, so if movie makers wanted their film in color, it would have been. Some are even colorizing classic TV shows, like The Munsters. Interesting thing, I found an old interview from the early 80s with one of the actors from that show and he said all the episodes were in black & white for a reason, they weren’t supposed to be in color. The producer wanted The Munsters to be in black & white. Fan of the show? Fan of the movies? This is going too far, when you are more concerned with showing off, than actually respecting the craft.
It’s usually at this point excuses arise. “Colorizing helps to ensure these images are never forgotten”…….You could just keep circulating them, talking about them, looking at them at a museum instead of doing something that could land you in court. “Well the world was in color back then!”….I’m guessing it was in ancient times too, since the frescoes and mosaic are in color. “People need to chill, it’s not like I really did anything”…..So here’s the problem I see all the time. Once a photographer releases a black & white photograph it’s immediately snatched up. After the colorizing process is done, it’s then placed in this person’s online shop, while the original is still under copyright. The copyright doesn’t go away just because you slapped makeup over the original. Fan artists do the same thing, slap bling on a new photo and circulating it before dropping it into their shop. This is theft, getting money off someone else’s photo, and you have gone way too far. Colorizing a photo from the 1850s and 1920s is one thing, but you have to understand where the limitations are.