A trend from the mid 1980’s of colourising black and white films attracted both criticism and support.
Those who supported colourisation argued that the new technology would enhance films and that it would allow the films to be appreciated by newer and younger audiences unused to black and white formats. Critics contended that the colourisation process was crude (it has since improved), that colourisation would not do justice to lighting composition specifically selected for black and white photography and that it would violate the artistic integrity of the original.
Film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert referred to colourisation as “Hollywood’s New Vandalism” with Ebert declaring:
"What was so wrong about black and white movies in the first place? By filming in black and white, movies can sometimes be more dreamlike and elegant and stylized and mysterious. They can add a whole additional dimension to reality, while color sometimes just supplies additional unnecessary information."
The advent of DVD’s reignited the issue by offering, in many cases, a black and white or colourised version of a film on the same disc. More recently the same arguments have been advanced in conversion of 2D films to 3D.
But what of photographs. Should classic black and white photographs be colourised? Does it add to or detract from the original? Is it enhancement or desecration? Here are some examples colourised by Sanna Dullaway for consideration of these questions . . .
Portrait of Alfred Hitchcock
Dorothy Counts by Douglas Martin
Bikini Atoll Atomic Bomb test
Portrait of Abraham Lincoln
Winston Churchill by Yousuf Karsh
V-J Day by Alfred Eisenstaedt
Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange
Self-Immolation of Thich Quang Duc by Malcolm Browne
Guyễn Ngọc Loan executing a Việt Cộng officer in Saigon during the Tet Offensive, photo by Eddie Adams
The American Dream by Margaret Bourke-White, 1937
Bombing of Pearl harbour
A Harvest of Death by Timothy H O'Sullivan, 1863, Battle of Gettysburg
From the Museum of Hoaxes:
Popular Photography Magazine ran a special feature on how to touch up photos in which subjects have unsightly wrinkles or unattractive expressions. "Can these photos be saved?" the article asked. One of the examples used was Dorothea Lange's famous Depression-era photo of a "Migrant Mother" huddling with her children in a roadside camp outside Nipomo, California.
Under the masterful touch of Popular Photography editors, the Migrant Mother was transformed from an iconic symbol of the struggle for survival into a smooth-faced suburban soccer mom. Her wrinkles were erased, her gaze softened, and the poverty-stricken kids removed. Readers were appalled. The editors later noted that the article "generated more responses than anything we've done in years… Most of our readers got the joke. But many didn't. We received hundreds—yes, HUNDREDS—of rants, hate letters, and excommunication threats."