July 6, 2017

Bringing the Past to Life

As you might know, if you’ve been a long-time reader of this blog, part of my job involves being the in-house historian at my office. We were founded in 1799, so we’ve got a huge archive and tons of amazing ephemera in our collections. We also have a ghost named Marcia, who lived and worked at our offices for 50 years – 1896-1946.

When we look at all of the old black and white photos, or old photographs of paintings in our collections, they seem so flat and lifeless, even if they include lots of people. In our minds, these aren't real people, because they don't look like the people we see every day. Gibson

But when you add color to the image, it instantly comes to life. I am the resident photoshop wizard, so have played around with colorizing some of our images here.

The first picture I did was our Marcia Crocker Noyes. We like to pose Marcia for the holidays, but when you've got a black and white Marcia on a bright sunny beach, it doesn't look right. So, she needed to be colorized. double marcia

I went down to her old office, and tried to channel Marcia so I could figure out what colors her dress and cape were. I had to guess on some things, but overall, I am pretty happy with the result.

Next up was one of our early headquarters buildings. This was a lot more of a challenge, as it was on the second floor of the Emerald Hotel and Saloon. There were tons of advertisements, windows, brickwork and other details, so it was a perfect job for that odd not-quite-holiday day.double calvert street

Finally, I played around with a group of physicians from the late 1800's. They're a dour bunch, clearly posing for the camera. I am not sure if that's a room at an early HQ building of ours, or a backdrop set. This is the original photo, which I desaturated to make it completely black and white.Baltimore Medical Soc Docs2

Here’s a half-and-half version of it. Baltimore Medical Soc Docs2x

And here’s the fully colourized version. Baltimore Medical Soc Docs2 in colour

I looked at old advertisements for men's clothing in the late 1800's to come up with the colors. I picked hair and eye colors based on closely looking at each of the men and making educated guesses. I have portraits of Drs. Chew and Donaldson, but Chew's hair is white, and Donaldson's hair is a close approximation to this. Here’s Dr. Chew in our portrait of him.

I realize that there are a lot of people who hate the idea of colorizing images, but it's not like the original people or places were in black and white. We are just giving them life again.


  1. I love colorized images. To me they are something completely different. Neither B&W, nor today's true colors.

  2. Excellent job Meg-I was a photo-retoucher in my former life.

  3. Really great job, Meg....I am certain Marcia is thrilled with your work.....

  4. Meg, I'd say if there were anyone better suited to the patient task of trying to figure out appropriate colors for colorizing old photos, I don't know who it would be. You've done a bang-up job. Regards, Magnaverde.

  5. This was a very interesting post. Back in the 1940's, colored photography was very expensive to have done. My mom had a kit of pencils that were compatible with black and white photography. She colorized many photos and they were then sealed with a special preservative. Surpisingly they have held up well.

    Now of course we have digital...which is so much safer to work on a duplicate than the oririginal. Thanks for the post, very interesting. And for the generations who never had to deal with a black/white world, I can see they would relate more to the colorized. Sandi


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