Colorizing a tragedy

When you pick out that photograph of Titanic victims, those who suffered during WWI or WWII, the Hindenburg disaster, or possibly even the St. Valentines Day Massacre do you stop to think what strings are attached to those photographs?

First off, I despise the act of colorizing photographs associated with tragedy.  Though I am very interested in the events surrounding Titanic and the St. Valentines Day Massacre – those photographs are capturing victims and should be left alone.  Be it passengers on a cruise ship or gangsters in Chicago respect should be given to everyone.  That is my personal opinion, now to the facts.

I’ve seen many photographs surrounding said tragedies that are colorized, and really the only one that isn’t still under investigation is Titanic.  Hindenburg is still under investigation as to what actually caused the fire, and even though we pretty much know how it happened the evidence can’t confirm and shut the case on the St. Valentines Day Massacre.  When you colorize photographs from tragedies and they are still under investigation – you’re tampering with evidence.  It doesn’t matter if that photograph has been seen 30,000 times the fact is its part of an investigation, a cold case.


This photograph for instance, of the famous Hatfield circus fire that happened in the 1940s.  There are people still alive who remember it and are traumatized by the events.  These events caused the city to ban the circus due to how many lives were lost that day.  The believed arsonist turned out not to be the culprit, and sadly whoever did this may never be found.  However, the case as it stands is cold.  It may seem like the kind of photograph to pick up and show off how you colorize fire but there are thousands of other vintage photographs you can do that with.

Someone colorized the iconic photograph of the monk who set himself on fire in protest.  That photograph was taken by a journalist named Malcolm Browne, who died in 2012 but a lot of his photos – like the burning monk – Time has possession of.  Time has a tendency to run older photographs in their magazine, or have surprise gallery showings of certain photographers.  This is why you research and find out the strings attached to the photograph because Time is an empire you don’t want to cross.

What about natural disasters?


In 1912 a bank in New York caught fire; the winter temperatures caused everything to freeze like you see in the photograph.  Firefighters had a terrible time trying to put out the flames.  Is it a problem to colorize photos from this disaster?  No.  In truth I’ve seen several natural disaster photos that have a comical element to them; people trying to make light of a bad situation.

Again, I’m not a fan of colorizing tragedies – however Thanos Archives, who specializes in post mortem vintage photography and funeral images from the past is one I highly recommend looking into (  ).  One other thing, Titanic photos I’d be careful with due to how many historic societies there are now; they’ve doubled in the last 10 years.


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