“Were you alive when life in color was invented?” This was a genuine naive question that I dared to ask my dad when I was a child. It stemmed from my curiosity and deep interest in looking at black and white photos of family members, and watching old Mexican movies with my parents. I actually believed that color didn’t exist in the world and that somehow color was invented. Now that I think back to it, it’s a silly idea that it would actually be true, but it made sense; and I know for a fact that I am not the only one who thought that as a child.
During the end of my sophomore year at Monmouth College (MC), I received an email about what seemed like a fun photo restoration project at the local history museum. I was very flattered to even be considered for such a great opportunity in the first place, but honestly it didn’t end up being what I imagined it would be. Sometime during the following fall semester, I met Kellen Hinrichsen, the museum director, and my future photography professor, Jessica Ott. The meeting went very well, although I did feel a tad bit overwhelmed with the notion that I had never done this process before and the life of an entire exhibit, for the most part, rested in my hands.
Over the course of the semester, Kellen and I met in the college library so I could learn the very slow process of digitizing the old prints, although he would be the only one to go through the painful process. After that, we met a couple more times to choose the photos that would end up being a part of the exhibit. A memorable moment at one of those meetings was when we encountered a very strange photo of a man, with a weird hat, behind a small child posing for a photo. As freakish as the photo was, I fell in love with it; until Kellen told me that the child might have been dead. Apparently, people used to photograph children when they passed away, and that might explain why the man is behind the child holding him up. I was really surprised to hear this, but still thought it was interesting; and yes, the photo did make the cut, and Jessica colorized it.
When the spring semester came along, it was time to start working. Jessica had given me a piece of paper that contained the steps for the colorization process, which made me think that the project wasn’t going to be so hard after all; I was completely wrong. When I sat down on the computer, I deliberately chose the simplest photo out of all of them to give me an easy start. That photo took me about a week to fully finish. A WEEK. As I continued on with each photo, I discovered techniques that made it easier for me to work with. The next photo took me three days to finish, and the next took me a couple of days, and then I was down to one day, and close to the end of the project, one photo would take me only a few hours.
Another thing I noticed as I worked on the photos was that I had developed a bit of a style. With the use of earth tones, like greens and browns, all of the photos began to look cohesive and have similar color schemes. However, researching and deciding what colors would go on each image was one of the hardest tasks during the project, because we had very little to no information on the dates that the photos were taken. Funny enough, my slight obsession with the tv show American Horror Story, helped me with guessing the decade that some of the photos were taken in, because of the fashion or models of cars.
Although the entire process was fun, I would definitely have to say that my favorite part was trying to assign meaning to the photos as I was working on them. I mean, how can you be staring into the faces of four guys in what appears to be a jail cell, and wonder why they were posing? Surprisingly, my hunch about one of them being a criminal was correct. Kellen was able to find information on some of the subjects of the images, and it was even more interesting being able to learn about what was actually going on, instead of just making something up. However, I was a little sad to learn that the house in one of the photos had actually burned down.