The past, in colour

This isn’t the main post for the day, but I thought you might be interested to see these two sets of images from two periods in the distant past, as they really were, that’ve been around the web this week.

The first is a set of photographs from Russia circa 1910, in high-resolution and full-colour. Not “colourised”, but taken with red/green/blue filters and then combined. The following is probably not the best image to summarise the set – it’s worth going over and having a look.

The second have been taken more recently, but they’re of considerably older subjects. Ancient Greek and Roman statues, that we’re so used to seeing in white marble, were apparently originally painted with bright colours. Researchers have used trace evidence of dyes, and other sources, to recreate them as they probably once were. It makes a huge difference:

In fact, it surprises me just how much of a difference it makes; how much of a barrier the traditional limitations to how we view the past – black and white photographs, colourless statues – actually turn out to be to our ability to connect with it. It’s like a veil, of sorts, being lifted. Losing the unreal classical look to the statues makes the ancient Greeks who made them seem more like ordinary people, and adding colour to the century-old scenes makes it easier to imagine what it would’ve been like to live in Russia before the war, before the revolution. It shouldn’t make that much difference – the information added by the colour is far less important than the details that would’ve always shown up in black and white – but it really does anyway.

UPDATE: Link to first set fixed.

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4 responses to “The past, in colour

  1. OTOH, some of the most celebrated photos in nature photography are B&W.

  2. I always thought colour, as a concept, was invented sometime in the early ’70’s.

    There’s also a whole bunch of 4×5 Kodachromes from WW2 era over at Shorpy. They’re beautiful.

    http://www.shorpy.com/4×5-large-format-kodachromes

  3. I saw these yesterday (via cryptogon of all places).

    Amazing photos hey.

    The colours are wild, especially of some of those central Asian clothes.

    And the water looks so clean. So does the sky for that matter. And those electricity generators … 100 years ago they would have been some of the first on earth. Only 100 years ago electricity generation was something brand new.

    Yeah what a buzz. My missus has a thing for pre revolution Russian authors too, so it was great getting that snapshot of end of the times of her favorite writers.

    Your link didn’t work either.

    Here’s where I saw them:

    http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2010/08/russia_in_color_a_century_ago.html

  4. Splatterbottom

    The Russian images are fabulous. A quick google of Prokudin-Gorskii brings up more of them.

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