Andre Cantelmo Photography | Realistically colorized historical photos

Realistically colorized historical photos

January 09, 2014  •  1 Comment

Early January has brought snow and single digit temperatures to central New Jersey this year. These conditions have made it easy to postpone photographic field trips until the weather gets a bit more civil. I stumbled across a photographic project on the internet that involves taking historic photographs that we've become familiar with as black and white compositions, and coloring them with the goal to make them as realistic as possible.


Photographs of Abraham Lincoln 1865, Charles Darwin 1874, Albert Einstein 1939, Ann Frank 1942, and Charlie Chaplin 1916 are among the group of 36 others. A fascinating transformation takes place when photographs we have in our memory as black and white compositions, become modern and up to date with the addition of color. Our brain plays tricks on our perception and now these subjects belong to our time. Its as if they had just sat for a portrait recently.


I remember watching “Victory at Sea” as a boy. This documentary series all filmed in black and white depicted World War II, with dramatic orchestral background music. If you let your imagination run a bit, it was as if people in that time lived in black and white. I have always loved film from the 1930's and 1940's. In my mind, James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Fred Astaire, and others of that era were and should only be black and white. This self imposed delusion was gladly embraced by me, even though logic would suggest otherwise.


Spending time with these photographs has a wonderful effect on long held beliefs and opinions. The photograph of Mark Twain circa 1900, is riveting. Seated in a leather chair, in a garden, surrounded by green, white hair covering his ears, legs crossed, and looking very much like a college professor he becomes more alive than I've ever imagined. It is as though he just took a short photographic break from a garden party to satisfy some photographer. The Mark Twain of my school years, the literary Mark Twain has been transformed into a contemporary. Abraham Lincoln, seated by a table, red bow tie, blue jacket, gold watch chain, and longish hair is no longer the man on the five dollar bill. He has been transformed into a man of our time. Charlie Chaplin no longer the man of silent film, now looks very much like someone you'd meet in Greenwich Village, NYC asking for directions to the nearest coffee shop. Looking unusually modern with longish hair, collarless striped shirt, and suit jacket, he is a contemporary.


Black and White photography is an abstraction. Tone, texture, light, and composition work together to convey a message with powerful emotional appeal. It leads the viewer to spend time with the work and contemplate the artist's message. Because we do not see the world in gray scale, any photograph rendered in black and white takes on an aura of fantasy. Black and White or Monochrome photography is my medium of choice. Because we see in color, we've attached emotional value to various colors. The world of advertising knows this very well and uses this to attract our attention. Some colors are soothing, some exciting, some out of place colors disturbing. Our relationship with historical figures, becomes an abstraction, when we are exposed to their black and white images. Graphics on a textbook page are not always emotionally approachable. This project involved taking images that most of us have already been exposed to and will recognize, and making those images modern, approachable, and in effect more real. No longer are these historical figures textbook graphics. This marvelous work makes them more human. If you'd like to view these works, here is the link,

36 Realistically Colorized Historical Photos Make the Past Seem Incredibly Real - See more at:


Patricia J Cantelmo(non-registered)
Bravo, this is a really good one. I also think of all these people as living in a black and white world. Keep up the good work.

Love you
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