Color is the new black and white

[There used to be a slideshow here. Looks like it was taken down. Booo.]

The idea of adding color to black-and-white images isn’t new, nor is it without controversy. With her digitally recolored historic images, Sanna Dullaway isn’t trying to recast the past, she’s simply inviting us to imagine it as it was: in color.

Her portraits bring a warmth and approachability to previously untouchable iconic figures. Some seem, dare I say, normal.

This practice touches on the longstanding controversy behind colorizing black-and-white works. Many feel that colorization adds a dimension to images not intended by the original image-maker. From a strictly aesthetic point of view, this makes sense. Contrast, for example, is a pretty straightforward aspect of a black-and-white image. Dark areas are black, light areas are white. When creating a black-and-white image, it’s assumed that the image-maker has this simple fact in mind and captures her subject accordingly, adjusting for the final output.

But in a color image, contrast is much more difficult to discern. While color images do have inherent brightness values, those values are nuanced by hue and saturation. By coloring an image, an image-maker is essentially re-creating — or co-creating — the original image, guiding the viewer’s attention to different aspects of the image. And that’s a touchy issue.

It’s not just a question of aesthetics. It became an issue of national judicial importance in 1986, when the question of copyright infringement was raised:

The case against colorization is most often couched in moral terms. According to this reasoning, colorization violates the moral right of the film director to create a work of art that has a final, permanent form and that will not be subject to alteration years later by unauthorized parties. Moral rights of artists, recognized in other countries, have no standing in United States law, which gives preference to the property rights of copyright holders. [Source]

What’s your take on the controversy? Is original artistic intent a factor? Should we recolor all black-and-white images? If not, why not?

Via Visual News

Note: This post was edited to remove a confusing statement about the Wizard of Oz.

2 thoughts on “Color is the new black and white

  1. Nate says:

    What do you mean “Just ask die-hard Wizard of Oz fans which version of the film they prefer.” What different versions are there?

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