Finding the right vintage photo


Say you want to build a business off vintage colorizing, and it can be done because people have done this successfully. Vintage has come back full swing; what with Downton Abbey, The Great Gatsby, and the obsession with Titanic. So you’ll need to make sure to find vintage photographs to colorize that will WOW people….how do you know there isn’t a catch latched onto what you find? It’s antique; all the copyrights should have run out already, the subjects in the photograph are dead, and also the photographer. No strings attached right? Well……

Sadly certain vintage photographs come with a catch. The most famous one is Buster Keaton; he has living relatives who continue to run festivities in his honor every year. The Keaton family are completely fine with colorizers showing off their colorized pieces of The Great Stoneface (here are mine, after all it’s a way for fellow fans of Buster to connect and talk about his films. However, once you try to put a price tag on those photographs there’s a problem. The only time you can sell a piece of art that’s Buster Keaton is if you personally created it, such as a painting or a sculpture.  Another famous name in the Silent Film era I came across that is officially off limits – Rudolph Valentino, the heart throb of his time. I only colorized a total of three images with him so it didn’t really bother me when the Silent Film Historical Society stated no profit could be made off his photographs. Who knows why it was suddenly decided his photos are off limits but the fact is they are which means you can colorize his photos, but can’t sell them.

A few other names from that era popped up – Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplain, however I never saw Mary Pickford who was known as the Queen of Silent Film. The one that confused me was photographs of Mack Sennett himself were off limits for selling, but the bathing beauties were fine. When you get into the later years of Hollywood (Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly), make sure to do some research (ugh so much paperwork for one little thing) BUT AGAIN! Remember when I talked about Copyright issues? Fred Astaire still has living family, not so “eyes of a hawk” like the Keaton family when it comes to the art world since they are focused on the world of dance. One piece of art could change all that so make sure you take every precaution before releasing something. Gene Kelly’s living family has lately been making appearances with the show Dancing with the Stars, so I would be VERY careful with any pieces I release of him.

Famous icons, and I mean FAMOUS icons, are off limits. Marilyn Monroe photos can’t be sold and the reason for that is there are STILL exhibits, gallery showings, you name it. She is still worldwide famous and the only way you can make profit off the name is with knick knacks. This goes for any icon you colorize – Unless you have permission to manipulate the photographs currently on display in an art gallery – you can do nothing to that photograph. Make a bag or a pair of shoes with an unmanipulated photograph and you’re fine, but as for a print with a colorized photo? You can’t do it. Another famous face – The Great Bambino himself, Babe Ruth. Now, I’m currently selling a photograph of him dressed in a military uniform and I looked up to see if I needed to remove the image; turns out that photographs of Babe Ruth in his baseball uniform can’t be sold (only through the Baseball historic society or branches of), but the service uniform is okay. Sometimes you will run into situations like that, never hurts to go the extra mile and read up to make sure you sell the right one (I guess Elvis has the same kind of deal). There is a name that stands out in the entertainment world – Barrymore. Drew Barrymore’s family legacy on stage and in Hollywood goes back to maybe the 1880s.   I don’t think I need to tell you – don’t sell any Barrymore photographs, considering Drew is in the business still.

Basically the thing to realize here is that just because the photograph is old, doesn’t mean the history surrounding it is dead.

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