Tag Archives: Dorothea Lange

A Vibrant Past: Colorizing the Archives of History

Technology has given us an incredibly wide-ranging view of modern presidents; chief White House photographer Pete Souza’s images of Barack Obama show him in countless locations and situations, from meetings in the Oval Office to candid shots of the president eating ice cream with his daughters on vacation.

The photo archive of Abraham Lincoln, the subject of this week’s cover story, is a much smaller set due to the technological limitations of the time; most of the existing photographs of the 16th president are posed portraits, the majority of which only show Lincoln from the chest up—and all are black-and-white.

But TIME commissioned Sanna Dullaway to create a more vibrant document of Lincoln through a series of colorized photographs produced in Photoshop. After removing spots, dust and scratches from archival Lincoln photographs, Dullaway digitally colorizes the files to produce realistic and modern versions of the portraits, which look like they could have been made today.

The 22-year-old Swedish artist began colorizing images in January 2011, when she was listening to the debut album by rock band Rage Against the Machine. The self-titled album’s cover art is a black-and-white picture of a self-immolating monk taken by AP photographer Malcolm Browne. “I thought the normally fiery flames looked so dull in black and white, so I…looked for a way to make them come alive,” she says. Dullaway colorized the flames, and eventually, the entire picture. She then posted the image on Reddit, and it instantly went viral.

Since that first experiment, Dullaway has continued to colorize a wide range of historical figures, including Albert Einstein, Che Guevara and Teddy Roosevelt, each of which has generated viral buzz online. She’s also used the approach on a number of iconic photographs, such as Eddie Adams’ harrowing image of a Vietnam police officer the moment before he’s about to execute a Vietcong prisoner. In each of these renderings, Dullaway’s use of color is subtle and sophisticated—yielding images that maintain the photographic integrity of their originals, while presenting a look at how these photographs may have come out had color photography existed at the time. That nuanced ability to handle color runs in the family; Dullaway’s father is painter.

The images take anywhere from 40 minutes to three hours to produce, and for the young artist, it’s a way of bringing a contemporary perspective to older works. “History has always been black and white to me, from the World War I soldiers to the 1800s, when ladies wore grand but colorless dresses,” Dullaway says. “By colorizing, I watch the photos come alive, and suddenly the people feel more real and history becomes more tangible.”

Lincoln is at the heart of her next project, a book of Civil War images rendered in color. “I felt like it was a good place to start because the war is well documented in the Library of Congress and started roughly around the same time the camera was first used commercially,” Dullaway says. “And a war offers to chance to cover many subjects at once, and present the events of that time as our eyes would see it today—in color.”

Sanna Dullaway is a photo editor based in Sweden. See more of her work here.

apertureWEEK: Online Photography Reading Shortlist

Aperture aggregates the best posts from this past week in the photography blogosphere.

  • “Imagine a place where a thousand of your best photo friends and heroes have taken over an artsy southern town,” says Andrew Owen, managing director of this weekend’s Look3 Festival in Charlottesville, VA, “and over three days you take in a dozen gallery exhibits, eat at outdoor cafes between talks by legendary photographers, see new work from photographers working all over the world, and return home exhausted and inspired.” That’s where we’ll be for the next few days, in part presenting a special exhibition, the Aperture at Sixty Library, which will showcase highlights from Aperture’s many years of publishing. La Lettre de La Photographie profiles exhibitions at the festival by Hank Willis Thomas, Alex Webb, Bruce Gilden, Stanley Greene, and many more. NYTimes‘ LENS blog takes a closer look at Thomas’ work, LA Times‘ Framework interviews Mitch Dobrowner, whose work is also featured at Look3, and Time‘s LightBox speaks with guest curators Vincent Musi and David Griffin.
  • More in festival coverage, Flak Photo offers four free days of live streaming lectures and panel discussions from the Flash Forward Festival, emerging photographers from Canada, the US and the UK, in Boston, MA at Fairmont Battery Wharf, June 7 – 10, 2012, presented in part by the Magenta Foundation. Download the festival catalogue here, and check out the full calendar of events.
  • Meanwhile in Europe, PhotoEspana has gotten underway. Of particular interest: Image Anxiety, curated by Chinese independent curator Huang Du, and of course, the annual Photobooks of the Year exhibition. In other international festival and fair news, the word is out that Paris Photo will launch a Los Angeles edition in April, 2013 at the Paramount Studios, as reported by the LA Times and the British Journal of Photography.
  • NPR’s Claire O’Neill heads on a trip to the New York Times’ “Lively Morgue,” their basement newspaper archive which contains five-to-six million photographic prints and contact sheets, overseen by Jeff Roth, mined and disseminated on the Times’ brilliant Tumblr site by photo editor Darcy Eveleigh and others.
  • “Sometimes it takes me two hours to get down a street, because there are so many things to photograph and people to meet,” writes Magnum photographer Jacob Aue Sobol in his latest entry from Beijing for Leica Camera Blog’s fascinating Arrivals and Departures series, unfolding live. Follow Sobol’s journey along the Trans Siberian Railway, “from the Russian forests to the Mongolian desert and finally through the mountains to Beijing,” shooting black-and-white every step–quite literally–along the way with the Leica’s new digital monochrome-only camera. Episode five, offers up a stunning gallery of images–dynamic, saturated street photos that remind us of work by Eikoh Hosoe from Barakei.
  • Another historical archive of photographs has emerged in New York at the New York Public Library. A “visual encyclopedia” of 41,000 prints by Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and others have recently been found, many digitized and now made available to the public on a special NYPL site. Originally compiled and organized  in the 30s and 40s by Roy Stryker, founder of the Farm Securities Administration’s photography project, many of the prints were in a public lending library until the 50s. ”Incredibly,” writes James Estrin for NY Times’ LENS blog, “anyone with a library card could check out an original print of a Dorothea Lange image and put it on their wall for a while. It’s easy to imagine that some were never returned.”
  • Find images of the once-in-a-lifetime Venus in Transit event which happens every 105 years or so, from LA TimesFramework, Boston‘s Big Picture, WSJ‘s Photo Journal, Conscientious, and The Atlantic‘s In Focus. Marvin Heiferman, author of the new book Photography Changes Everything (Aperture 2012), shared this great link on his twitter feed, “a history of photographers who’ve already tracked the Transit of Venus.”

When the Personal Turns Political: LaToya Ruby Frazier at the Whitney Biennial

From the outset of her career as a young artist, LaToya Ruby Frazier has always found inspiration at home. In thoughtfully constructed black and white photographs she began, in her teens, to document herself and her family life in Braddock, Pa.

“What’s the most intimate thing you can portray? For me, it’s myself,” she says.

The work Frazier has featured in the 2012 Whitney Biennial in New York City, which starts Thursday, builds on the classic documentary work she studied while in college at Syracuse University. Over time, the photographer, now 30, began to incorporate staged narratives and self-portraiture meant to challenge viewers with questions about the artist’s objectivity and representation, and that of her loved ones.

She was inspired by the famous work of the Farm Security Administration photographers like Dorothea Lange, but questioned those images. “We all remember Lange’s photograph of the migrant mother but how many of us remember her name?” she asks. “I felt social documentary can only go so far and I started to think, ‘What if the subjects of the Depression-era images photographed themselves?’”

The work featured in the Biennial leaves the confines of her family home and addresses the larger history and representation of Braddock, Pa.—yet it’s all inextricably linked back to Frazier’s life. The first series, called Campaign for Braddock Hospital (Save Our Community Hospital), began when she discovered in her research that the history of Braddock had omitted all the black families that lived there, including that of her own grandfather, who was a steel worker. It didn’t help when the clothing company Levi’s began using Braddock’s industrial history as the inspiration for a major advertising campaign. In one ad, the denim company calls for the “New Pioneers” to “Go Forth” to new opportunities in Braddock and invigorate the town’s growth.

Frazier was left stunned by what she saw as the irony and greed of the ads and eventually repurposed those images in her artwork. The series is made of two parts: first she begins a process of “copy editing” the ads with comments from members of the community, and photographs them. Then she made documentary photos of an actual protest to save the town’s hospital. All the images were made into black and white lithographic prints referencing both turn-of-the-century advertising and social documentary of the 1930s.

In a second series debuting at the Biennial, called Homebody, she created a set of narrative self-portraits in her step grandfather’s now-abandoned apartment in Braddock. The work is a more personal complement to the Campaign series and records a place steeped in memories for Frazier, memories of her deceased grandmother Ruby. The images document a performance in front of the camera as she moves throughout the empty, decaying environment. The Homebody photos expose a fragility that’s often apparent in her work: in an earlier series, The Notion of Family, she had recorded the end of her Grandmother’s life. Frazier herself, her mother and grandmother have all suffered chronic illnesses. Her portraits and self-portraits, she says, “are meant to be factual records of those things and are reflected in the collapsed landscape that is modern day Braddock, Pa.”

“I’m archiving history thats been erased,” she says. “I’m showing what the media is not showing—moments in the town that have been omitted from history and not just African American history, but the working class people I’m speaking about.”

“Braddock started to fall apart when I was born. I’m interested in how I contextualize myself,” she adds. The collapsed interiors and old blankets depicted in the Homebody series don’t provide comfort, only the feeling of whats been lost for Frazier, in a town that’s struggling to move toward an American dream that faded generations ago.

LaToya Ruby Frazier’s work is currently on view in the 2012 Whitney Biennial in New York City. She has previously exhibited her work at The New Museum, MoMA PS1 and The Andy Warhol Museum. She was featured last fall on the PBS program Art 21. To see more of her work click here.

The Summer Show at the Scott Nichols Gallery


Young Girl , 1962. © Dorothea Lange

The Summer Show

Exhibition on view:
July 7–September 3, 2011

Scott Nichols Gallery:
49 Geary Street
Fourth Floor
San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 788-4641

The Scott Nicholas Gallery is currently exhibiting photos from their own collection. The Summer Show features works by legendary and contemporary photographs, including many published by Aperture: Wynn Bullock, Imogen Cunningham, Dorothea Lange, Edward Weston, and (Aperture founding member) Ansel Adams. Aperture books from these photographers include Wynn Bullock: Masters of Photography and Edward Weston: Nudes. The second photogravure edition of Dorthea Lange’s Migrant Mother is available from Aperture. Many of these artists’ works can also be found in Aperture’s golden anniversary book Photography Past/Forward: Aperture at 50.