Adding colour to old photographs

Applying modern production techniques to material from the Imperial War Museums’ First World War film archive, director Peter Jackson transformed grainy black and white footage into vibrant, moving and startling colour images. The film, ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’, has received many positive reviews. The Guardian’s film critic, Peter Bradshaw said of it,
“The effect is electrifying. The soldiers are returned to an eerie, hyperreal kind of life in front of our eyes, like ghosts or figures summoned up in a seance. The faces are unforgettable.”
It is a remarkable film.

‘They Shall Not Grow Old’ – Trailer

While it is unlikely that any of us will have family film archives from that time, many have photographs. What if we could ‘colourise’ these in the way Peter Jackson has with film? Well, there are a few websites that provide this service. Image Colorizer is easy to use, has free and paid accounts, and says that, “All uploaded items will be cleared every 24 hours. No photos will be stored and used for other purposes without your permission.”

I tried the service with a couple of photographs from the family collection. The first is of my grandfather, Arthur Hutt, shortly before leaving for France in 1915 at the age of 17. The second shows him presenting the Histon homeguard for inspection during World War Two. To my eyes, there is some added vibrancy to the first photo but much more so with the second image. See what you think.

Arthur Hutt, 1915
Arthur Hutt presenting the Histon homeguard for inspection in WW2

My grandchildren, aged seven and nine, were impressed with these and other colourised photos of their great-great-grandfather. For younger generations, colourising, like the Peter Jackson film, may be a way to bring the past more readily into the present. If you would like to try it, here’s that link again: Image Colorizer.

Author: Andy Hutt

Andy's interest in the campaign comes from his grandfather, Arthur, who served in Salonika as a sapper with the Royal Engineers from 1916-1918. Opinions expressed in these posts are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Society.

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