Tag Archives: Swedish Artist

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.

Retouching a Classic: ‘Less Américains’

In the digital age, touching the work of established photographic masters can be sensitive business. Recently a Swedish artist named Sanna Dullaway applied her colorizing skills to several historical photographs that included Dorthea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” and Eddie Adams’ harrowing image of an on-the-spot execution of a Vietcong on the streets of Saigon. The debate surrounding these modified versions was whether the interpretation was an improvement that could somehow be more powerful emotionally—due to addition of a color palette and the ability to reach newer generations who disconnect when they see black and white images—or simple vandalism.

The artist Pavel Maria Smejkal in his Fatescapes series took his appropriation of historical images one step further by digitally removing the people from images such as Nick Ut’s photograph of a young Vietnamese girl running from a napalm attack and the aforementioned Adams image. By leaving only the landscapes or streetscapes to play on our subconscious memory of historical places and events, he questions the limitations of a photograph’s accuracy at the representation of history.

Perhaps the most provocative example in terms of potential copyright infringement is when the artist Sherrie Levine re-photographed some of Walker Evans’ famous images from the 1930s Farm Security Administration project and presented them unaltered and with her name (the series was called After Walker Evans). Many viewers were outraged. Her act called into question many issues regarding a photograph’s author, copyright (Legally the FSA photographs are owned by the American public, which financed the project so there is no copyright infringement case that could be brought against Levine) and the portrayal of the poor. To some it was Art, but to others, it amounted to Blasphemy.

After Evans, Robert Frank may well be the most influential photographer the medium has seen. Frank’s book The Americans, published in the United States by Grove Press in 1959, was equally celebrated and reviled for its view of the U.S. and its citizenry. Today there is hardly a contemporary photographer who does not acknowledge that Frank accomplished greatness while photographing America for two years on a Guggenheim Fellowship.

The Americans hasn’t escaped its own touches with appropriation. In his newest bookwork Less Américains, London-based artist Mishka Henner takes his humorous title from the French Edition of Frank’s book Les Américains, published in 1958 by Robert Delpire in Paris. By scanning and applying Photoshop to Frank’s images, Henner has proceeded to remove most of the vital subject matter from all 83 photographs—leaving only small details hovering around the frame like background props on an empty theater stage.

Of course, as the title suggests, Less Américains does away with the “Americans” in Frank’s photographs so all that remains, for example, of the Hoboken City Fathers are a line of hats and some political bunting hanging on a two-by-four. And what has been spared in the most famous of all New Orleans street car picture which so perfectly expressed the implied race hierarchy of Jim Crow in the United States? A few vague, unidentifiable shapes that sit within the frame like mismatched puzzle pieces. To quote Jack Kerouac, who wrote an introduction to the American edition of Frank’s book, “The humour, the sadness, the EVERYTHING-ness and American-ness of these pictures (!)” linger like a ghost in these secondary elements.

Less Américains includes an introduction by the artist Elisabeth Tonnard that takes the form of a concrete poetry version of Kerouac’s prose. Tonnard’s approach was to systematically white-out the individual letters A.M.E.R.I.C.A.I.N.S. from Kerouac’s text, leaving an incomprehensible soup of vowels and consonants. His “…basketa pittykats…” becomes the even more cryptic “…B k t p tty-k t …”

Well, what can we make of Henner’s reworking of this masterpiece? I think Kerouac said it best: “What poem this is, what poems can be written about this book of pictures some day by some young new writer high by candlelight bending over them describing every grey mysterious detail.”

Less Américains was published earlier this year.

Jeffrey Ladd is a photographer, writer, editor and founder of Errata Editions. Visit his blog here.