This blog originally appeared on She Was a Bird November 13, 2013:
It's Friday! It's a rainy, yucky, gloomy Friday, but I'll take any end-of-work-week-day I can get! I'm sprung out of this joint at 1 today, and I'm telling you, I was ready to go about the time I stepped off the elevator to get here this morning. However! What kind of a Friday would it be without a photo retrospective? Let's dig in!
As I was browsing through photo after photo of people who aren't related to me this morning, it crossed my mind that large number of the photo sets would have one photo, usually from the thirties', that was just over-saturated with watercolor like hues. I love them one, I love them all-- but here are a few that cropped up this morning that might be worth your while! Might, who I am kidding, ARE. Go look already!
I had always thought that colored photographs were something you paid a professional photographer or someone that worked for him to do to your negatives, which were then processed as a regular development. Uh, shows that I know about photos. From the invention of photography in the nineteenth century and well up until about the fifties', you could hire a professional to tint your pictures by hand (electroplating was an early technique that produced good results), or you could break out a box of pastels, water colors, whatever art supplies you had in the house, and go at the photo yourself! As long as a photo was matte rather than glossy in its finish, you could draw in devil horns, add cascades of rainbow colors-- think about it as early, early, early Photoshop. I think I've told you before one of the things I remember from my F Scott Fitzgerald crush in high school was reading about Zelda going back through photo albums and carefully shading, with a lead pencil, all her maternity pictures so a more svelte, cheekboned girl appeared where a roundfaced expecting mother has been before. The above photo was possibly painted in by the woman's daughter (the user's mother) years after this was taken at a 1934 county fair.
WOW what color. Doesn't that blue just sock you in the kisser on first glance? Just the very basic blocking of color here-- the woman's dress, the man's tie, the green ivy in the background and the roof-- makes every object in the photo more distinct. We were talking about this the other day when I mentioned that clothes in black and white could be the most unpredictable shades under the rainbow-- besides racking my brain as to "what color would that dress be in 1935?", I wonder how many details I've missed in old photos because the grey looks like the grey looks like the medium grey. Do you know what I mean? Here, the woman's sepia skin would have been the same color as her sepia dress and I might never have noticed the belt. The house would be one wash of color and I wouldn't have noticed the ivy. Isn't that wild to think about?
I'm also partial to the Land of Oz like vibrancy of hand colored photographs. Here are some school girls poring over a magazine, in what would have been a "ah, nice, there's your grandma, I guess" photo. With a couple of brushstrokes, the pastels pop right out of the frame, and I'm remarking upon the polkadots on the center teen's dress, the barettes in the girl on the left's hair, and those enormous ruffles on both dresses. I'm not sure I would have noticed the girl on the right even has glasses on, without the bas relief effect the color has in making the non-color items stand out, as if in 3D, from the photo.
There's also something about the un-realness of the colors, like an acid trip of what 1936 must have looked like. The colors are so bright you could taste them, where the uncolored portions of the picture are muted to the point of being indistinguishable from other parts of the background. Here, the grass has been colored and the family, but with no attention to the background. Possibly the sky was a pale blue that faded back to a non-color, but isn't it weird how the family is so vibrant against the oatmeal colored sky and fence? I love how they're stairsteps in terms of height and how well dressed is each member of the family.
Last but not least, a pretty teenager in another photo booth, this one in Montreal in 1938. Didn't the tinter (maybe the girl herself?) do a good job on the flowers and on creating a realistic lip, cheek, and face color? Being sans background kind of puts this photo in a context-less space, where, if it weren't for the photo stock and the hairstyle, this photo could have been taken in 1960, 1990...anytime! I love her pretty, open face and high forehead (not to mention the dress...I'll take one in my size, thanks).
Do you have any hand tinted photos like this in your collection or in your family photo album? We have a few that were professionally tinted (like studio shots), but I don't think any enterprising member of my family took to the paintbox to make our pictures REALLY pop. If you're interested in the art of hand tinting, there's a link here to a simple "here's how it's done" procedural, as well as several books on Amazon (or, cough cough, IN YOUR LIBRARY) that could help you get started! Check 'em out.
I have to skedaddle off to the nonfiction desk, but I will see you guys with bells on Monday! Have a great weekend, pray for no rain at the flea market tomorrow, and I'll catch you on the other side! Til then.