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Making Colorful History:
50 Years after the March on Washington

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2013

By Jill Pilaroscia


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A recent post on NPR’s “The Picture Show” caught our color-loving eyes.

The article focused on the colorization of old photographs—specifically, photos of the March on Washington 50 years ago this August.

Each image is an original period photograph taken of the March and surrounding events, then painstakingly colored in Photoshop by individuals online. 

March on Washington
Orlando Hernandez/Library of Congress (right); Colorized by Cyriel Roumen

Bayard Rustin (left), deputy director of the March on Washington, talks with Cleveland Robinson, chairman of the administrative committee.

The recolored and black-and-white photographs are beautiful next to one another.
 
The recolorizations bring to life what would otherwise feel like a black-and-white moment from our deep past.
 

Orlando Hernandez / Library of Congress (left); Colorized by B. Cakebread

Cleveland Robinson stands on the second-floor balcony of the National Headquarters of the March on Washington in Harlem, N.Y.

And while 50 years marks a long time in the technological advancements that have led to the ubiquity of color photography, for social change, 50 years is only a beginning.
 
Then, this comparison caught our eye.
 
March on Washington

Original photo by Warren K. Leffler/Library of Congress;

Colorized by Sanna Dullaway (left) and Deborah Humphries (right)

Some of the more than 200,000 demonstrators sit with their feet in the Reflecting Pool during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on Aug. 28, 1963.

The article gives something of a passing thought to the idea that different artists approach the colorizing in different ways.

Here Sanna Dullaway's image, on the left, and Deborah Humpries image, on the right, show clearly not just the two women's different choices in color of clothing, nail polish, and skin tones, but how the color choices influence the tone of the entire image.

And as we at Colour Studio continue to profess: Color has meaning all its own.
 
Now, there is no way to pronounce one approach more valid than the other, but we should recognize that the warm, hazy glow of the left produces in the viewer different emotional reactions and interactions than the cool, crisp, high contrast of the right image.
 
On the left, the day feels hot, the air heavy with humidity, like a Southern afternoon. The water is green, more natural, more lake-like than the man-made reflecting pool.
 
On the right, the blue water and higher contrasts ring of drama, the energy of cities, and maybe even edgy impatience. 
 
The color choices of the artist interact with, and change, the way we see the images—and, in this case, the way we see our actual history.
 
But which portrayal of this groundbreaking moment is more authentic? At ease or on edge?
 
Maybe the images together side by side—two visions, two experiences of the same moment—are the best we can ever come to experiencing and understanding the March on Washington for ourselves.
 
In this media-centric age, it is important to think about what we are seeing—and these two stereoscopic viewpoints show us our history, and how color changes the way we view that history, all at once.

 

ABOUT THE BLOGGER

Jill Pilaroscia

“Life in Color” is co-authored by architectural color consultant Jill Pilaroscia (pictured), BFA, and creative writer Allison Serrell. Pilaroscia’s firm, Colour Studio Inc., is based in San Francisco. A fully accredited member of the International Association of Color Consultants, Pilaroscia writes and lectures widely on the art and science of color.

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Tagged categories: Color; Colour Studio Inc.; Design; Historic Preservation

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