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Colorization of historical works, improvement or blasphemy?

Photo: Dorothea Lange | Colorization: Sanna Dullaway

The photograph that has become known as "Migrant Mother" was a 32-year-old mother of seven children photographed in February of 1936 by Dorothea Lange.

Photo: Alfred Eisenstaedt | Colorization: Sanna Dullaway

LIFE's Alfred Eisenstaedt captured this scene amid the joyous chaos of August 14, 1945, his "V-J Day in Times Square" has become one of the most famous photographs ever made.

 

When Swedish artist Sanna Dullaway colorized a series of historical works from the likes of Eddie Adams and Dorothea Lange her intent was not to re-create history or take credit for adding a new twist to these historical images. All Dullaway wanted to do when she posted a link on Reddit was to show off her talents as an artist.

Photo: Eddie Adams | Colorization: Sanna Dullaway

Vietcong Execution in Saigon in 1968 was one of the most iconic images of the Viet Nam war.

“I only wanted to show everyone a new perspective of the past black & white world.” She wrote in an email. “The sun shone on our grandparents too.”

"I felt the famous photographs would  best reach and touch everyone who saw them," Dullaway continued.

When the colorized images went viral, with websites like Gizmodo writing about her works, she realized the impact of what she did. “I never claimed them being my own work nor did I want to ‘improve’ or ‘replace’ them as some people might want to think.”

When Dullaway realized that she might have infringed on copyrights, she immediately informed imgur to take down the offending material and apologized for her actions on her deviantart.com website. She added this to her status, “Please note I do not take credit for the iconic photos I colourized,” she wrote. “Focus on the photos, not me.”

Needless to say her images are out there and alive on the internet, and as I look at the manipulations, I have to wonder how many times can history be re-written and when does a piece of art ever stop being modified?

 Gizmodo blogger Jesus Diaz wrote today that these colored famous photos are so much more powerful than their black and white originals, but I have to disagree.  Eddie Adams' photo of the execution captured on the streets of Saigon is more powerful, because it is real. That black and white photo raised the global conscience about the conflict in Vietnam, and helped bring an end to the war. Color or not, it’s one of the most important photos of the 20th century.

I understand that these images were done not to modify history and should only be taken as entertainment. It’s not the first time that works of art have been digitally altered and it’s definitely not the first time black and white classics have made the leap to color. I remember the first time I saw Ted Turner's colorization of Casablanca. It looked unnatural and like many others I preferred the black and white original. However, on a completely different tune, when DJ Dangermouse mashed the Beatles White Album and Jay-Z's Black Album to create the Grey Album, I had to commend the creativity. But that's art of a different color.

Ultimately for Dullaway, her experiment got the job done. People are talking about her new colorization business, around the globe, and in this day and age, that’s more than half the battle for an artist. The ability to self-promote is important and she should enjoy the buzz while it lasts, because after it’s over, an artist needs to stand on their own talents and not gimmicks.

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What do you think? Discuss this post in the comments section or hit me on Twitter @sweeneyjon.

Editor's note: I though it would be worth mentioning that this blog post was modified from its original. Dullaway posted a link to her creations on Reddit, and not a personal blog.