Modern photographers have the luxury of choosing between the striking contrast offered by black-and-white film or the lush, richer scenes captured by color. Color photography didn’t come to market until the 1950s. It was widely adopted by the 1970s, but many archives of older, historic photos are seemingly trapped in their black-and-white past.
Adding color to images has been in practice since photo editing software became widely available two decades ago. But the field has grown rapidly as technology makes the process more accessible and the results more easily distributed across social media platforms. Millions of people have shared newly colored historical photos on Facebook. But the spotlight is rarely shone on the artists involved.
Jordan J. Lloyd, has “colored” many of the images that people share online and has adopted the title of image specialist. “I can sit there and see people sharing my images 200,000 times, and nobody knows it’s even me,” Lloyd said.
Almost all of Lloyd’s work is concentrated on older photos in the public domain, and he engages with the colorization community on Reddit, where practitioners congregate to share photos, tips and critiques. Lloyd mentions the History in Color subreddit and Colorization subreddit as two notable hubs.
A London-based architect, Lloyd has spent the last three years injecting color into old photographs for museums, families and private organizations through his company Dynamichrome. Working to make the images as authentic as possible involves detailed research into every item in the photo to find the right color approximations.
“The amount of research that you have to do to get a reasonable amount of authenticity, the research and restoration probably takes longer than adding the color itself,” Jordan said. “It’s more than adding a little bit of color to the images.”
His most shared colored photo is by Depression-era photographer Dorothea Lange. In the photo, shot in 1939, five black men sit on the porch of a country store while the white owner’s brother stands in the door. Coca-Cola and cigarette advertisements cover the store’s exerior, making it a busy photo. Up until last year this photo only existed in black and white. Lloyd took a week to research every element of the photo, from the hue of the wood on the porch to the color of the advertisements. He also recently colorized a photo from the 1968 March on Washington.
Other artists fell into the field by accident. Patty Allison’s sister wanted to restore an old picture of her parent from 1956. Allison, a dog groomer who lives in Portland, Maine, took on the project, and now she “colors” old pictures as a hobby. “I hopped online and went to YouTube to learn,” Allison, 53, said. “I found a couple of things, and I started to play with it.”
She favors pictures with cars, she said. Her most popular colorized photo is one of women getting their swimsuits measured along the Potomac river, which she originally shared on Reddit. “Half of the fun is finding the photo,” Allison said. “I try to get photos of people doing things that are noble.”