There is nothing new in adding color to Civil War era photographs. Even during the War photographs would occasionally have tint supplied. However, up until now the resulting products did not look like modern color photography. Until now is the operative phrase:
Jordan J. Lloyd, a colorist for Dynamichrome, a digital image-restoration agency, brings old photos back to life, from grainy, glass-plate originals to high-resolution JPEGs. For the following images, Llyod researched extensively the Civil War era, down to the shoulder marks of commanders. He cleaned up scratches and blemishes and corrected for light exposure to restore the images to their original condition.
Lloyd then applied multiple layers of color to the original, much like highlighting an image with a colored pencil. The more layers piled on, the more realistic the photo becomes, Lloyd says. Extra layers reveal a slight flush in the subjects’ faces, sharpen reflections, and add gleam to metals in the scene.
I am of two minds about this development. Part of me echoes the death bed statement of Orson Welles regarding the colorization of black and white films: “Keep Turner and his crayons away from my films!” On the other hand, the participants in the Civil War did not see the world in black and white as depicted in the Civil War photographs. It cannot be denied that skillful colorization of Civil War photographs brings to life images that now look as if they were taken of Civil War reenactors. However, is this a good thing? Old grainy black and white photos remind us of something that we must always keep in mind when studying history: the past is a foreign country. Do these colorized photos give them a false contemporary feel, and encourage us in the mistaken belief, even if unconscious, that these people are just like us, merely wearing different garb?