The colorization of black-and-white imagery has developed a bad stigma over the years, because more often than not, it damages the integrity of the original product. At some point or another, we have all seen a film from the 1930’s or 40’s and a laughably bad color-transfer that makes our eyes want to bleed. My first introduction to colorization came when I was very little, and happened upon a VHS of John Wayne’s The Sands of Iwo Jima, and even as a ten-year old I recognized it to be so horrendous that I had to shut it off. Since then, I have never given any of these changes much credence, until I happened upon this wonderful colorization of the last photograph ever taken of Abraham Lincoln, as he sat for Alexander Gardner in his studio less than a week before he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. We can thank the website “Shorpy” for this rendition that will hopefully lead to others:
I had never quite thought about it before, how something as small as this could lead to an entire new way of teaching. Not by way of changing lesson plans or anything like that, but the aid it would provide to teachers visually, whose students are lost after staring at old, grainy black-and-white images for months at a time. While I do agree that B & W can bring out shadows, contrast, and objectivity a hundred times better than color, the mindset of that kind of photography as an art-form would hold no bearing with the majority of middle or high school students. But, all of a sudden, you show them this picture of Lincoln above, and it opens new doors—it actually makes the history more accessible and understandable, and even for us adult history buffs, it just proves to be something really cool!
Various shows and mediums over the years have tried to accomplish such, examples being World War I in Color, which proved to be a disaster in my eyes, because the colors were flat-out ridiculous, and the latest, Death Masks, from the History Channel, did a decent job in bringing figures such as Lincoln, William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, and others, to life, because their heads were made with 3D graphics that allowed for blinking and facial movement. But for an aid to a lesson, nothing can really top this. I suppose colorizing one still-image is much different than doing it for a movie, with the colors having to mesh and blend with each cell. I truly hope that the creators of this picture will transfer more, maybe even some of the aftermath on Civil War battlefields (anyone else want to see the famous Gettysburg sniper photo done up in color?) to really bring the past alive for all!