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Halloween Hoedown: 1940

Halloween Hoedown: 1940

This photo by Arthur Rothstein wasn't an ideal one to colorize, but somehow it challenged me. I didn't like the rope going across, so I removed it. I couldn't resist adding a little humor by making the banjo player's clothing mismatched. I figure that in that day and place, he just might have dressed like that for an informal evening of jamming with his buddies. View full size.

On Shorpy:
Today’s Top 5

Colorizing Debate: One Solution

I have a solution to the debate about colorizing. But first, this word: I was reminded of a time 20 years ago when I published a magazine article that had zero to do with photography, but I had used the word "colorize," which seemed natural enough at the time. Next thing I knew I got a letter from the Turner Broadcasting legal department saying that "colorize" was its trademarked word. Good luck with that one, Ted.

Anyway, the fix: those who object could download the colorized photo and load it into Photoshop. The photo could then be decolorized using any favorite method: desaturation, channel mixer, whatever. The new B&W would then be uploaded to Shorpy. I'm sure Dave would be pleased to create a new section called "De-colorized Colorized" where we could all judge how well the user did in exactly matching the monochrome originals in Shorpy's database.


Great job! As somebody who's tinkered with colorizing B&W pics, I understand how many hours this took you. Here's one I did a while back.


I think you've done a great job, most notably in the details.

My 2 Cents

I know I'm opening up myself to Dave's wrath, but I would question saying this is the most "popular" post - but it might be a question of semantics. I'm sure many people open the post to simply see what other people are writing concerning colorization, not necessarily supporting the practice. It's like buying a movie ticket; even if you end up hating the film the theater still has your money.

Even if there was a flood of criticism Dave still runs the site as he sees fit. From what I've seen on Shorpy the comments sections aren't as full of negative comments as other sites tend to be. I'd like to think that means that most people choose to not post something disparaging or critical (yes, there are those exceptions).

[It was "most popular" according to the Statistics Module -- i.e., No. 1 in the "Popular Content" Top 5 list over on the right. - Dave]

Well Done

These colorized photos are exceptional because of their quality. I don't hear anybody complaining about B&W photographs of old master paintings, they do exist.

In the 1980s there were attempts at colorizing movies. The outcry was enormous. They were done initially to Laurel and Hardy reels and sold as VHS tapes. The worst example was "It's a Wonderful Life." The process used then was awful. Plaids were all one color and the flesh tones made them look like cartoons. Art rises or falls on its merits. Fredric Falcon's work is excellent.


I'm reminded of the question: What's the difference between a trampoline and a trombone? Answer: You take your shoes off to jump on a trampoline.

The Great Dane

Regarding banjos, I'm reminded of something Victor Borge used to say: "The difference between a violin and a viola? The viola burns longer."


I don't work in layers. The colors are added in lines and scribbles with the program Akvis Coloriage. It's simple to use but kinda difficult to describe the process concisely. It'd be easier for you to visit the Akvis website to see how it works. On the tutorial page is a short movie you can watch to see how colors are added.

The program has a collection of suggested flesh tone colors for all races. Alas, with some of criticisms of my flesh tones here, I should have tried some other hues.

And, rgraham, that was an ideal color you added to the violin! Thanks!

Unnatural Color by Technicolor

Perhaps some of the results seem "too colorful" and not quite lifelike. Not a problem for me. They're fun anyway. Even 19th-century photo portraits and many landscape scenes got tinted too, and now we have only the faded prints and monochrome negatives on which to base our ideas about what was accepted. And, after all, in the early days of color movies, the Technicolor labs deliberately and unnaturally heightened the vividness of their process, sometimes over the dead bodies of directors and producers who wanted a subtler look. Even with new computer software, color tinting is not a mechanical process but an aesthetic one that owes more to the vision and skill of the tinter than to the tools used. So, enjoy the art show or hate it hard, but don't shoot the artist for trying something outside somebody's assumed rulebook.

Curious to know....

Are these colors in layers and if so, are you working with as many layers as you are colors? Also, how do you get the flesh tone?

For the record

Your webmaster is a fan of Fredric's images, as I know many of you are (as I write this, "Halloween Hoedown" is the most popular post on the site), and hopes the exchange of views doesn't deter him from posting more.

We all remember Shorpy contributor James Lileks, who when last seen was running screaming out the door.

Colorization vs. Farking

Personally, I love the work that Fredric is doing with colorization: the colorized photos always bring out details and depth I did not appreciate in the B&W. I agree that indiscriminate and haphazard coloring would distract from the quality of the original photos, but that is not what we have witnessed: Fredric's work shows great skill and extreme sensitivity to historical context.

For those who enjoy raising their blood pressure over the "molestation" of historical photos, I direct you to the galleries of 'Farked' photos: though not hosted at, they are more representative of the bounds currently being taken in regards to abuse/creativity with public domain photos.

A few examples:

While I am rarely entertained by the photos from Shorpy that undergo the Farking process, I would hardly get up in arms over other people utilizing internet/software resources to spur their own artistic processes. Isn't it the combination of creativity and liberty which makes the U.S.A. great?

Colorization: Examples and tutorial

Best colorization of vintage photos I've seen so far:


Nothing more than vandalism...

Just because something can be done, doesn't mean it should be.

The skill of the original photographer in working with the media of the time should be respected and appreciated. That respect and appreciation is not shown by colorizing the photos.

What's next? Shorpy images converted to HDR? Or maybe placing the dog's head on someones body? (Hope I don't give anyone any ideas.)

[Not to worry. - Dave]

Flesh Tones

I appreciate the time and effort Fredric Falcon puts into his colorizations. They are snappy and certainly don't cause me any great discomfort. The only quibble I have is that on this and the Grace Valentine photo, the skin tones look a little too colorful, too ruddy shall we say. Nevertheless, as long as Fredric does them and Dave puts them up, they're part of the wonderful world of Shorpy.

I LOVE Your Colorization

I'd like to know if you use a specific tool or filter to colorize these photos. I've got a pretty old version of Photoshop and in order to do this I can imagine a LOT of work.

I'd love a quick quick tutorial from you (or a link to your favorite colorization tutorial online).

Again, thanks for these. Anyone who thinks monkeying with past works of art is bad belongs in a hard pew church; they do not have supple minds or hearts.

[Fredric tells how he does it in this post. - Dave]

Colourization vs. Tinting

I find myself less disturbed by this sort of thing than I tend to feel about colorization in the movies. There are a lot of reasons. In dealing with colorized movies, it was true that the original material was not destroyed or in anyway defaced, however it was also true that had the process been at all satisfactory (it rarely was; the colours tended to be entirely inappropriate and in some cases the result was horrendous - check out the colorized version of the original "Nutty Professor" with Fred MacMurray) the only version of many classic films we'd see would be the colorized version. About the only good thing to come out of colorizing movies was Turner Classic Movies, the greatest cable channel in the world.

In contrast what is done with still photos is far less of an artistic pillage. As Dave has pointed out, the original material is still intact. Add to that the fact that "colorizing" photos in a far more destructive process, was quite common for most of the 20th century, and probably before. Prints of photos were tinted using commercially available kits, and photographers offered the option to add colour to their pictures. The results were usually quite a lot worse than what we're seeing here. These photos do need to be marked as colorized, but On the whole I don't see anything wrong with it as only pixels are altered to create these images.

As for those Civil War scenes, they may be hard to do. I don't know what it's like with this software, but one of the drawbacks of the film colorization process was that you had to tint things to a darker colour than the original image. With those Union uniforms essentially photographing as black, that would be pretty hard to do.

Color me happy!

I like the snappiness that the color gives to the photo.

Nice job

Just the other day I mentioned to my wife that the age of colorization of movies seemed to have come and gone without most people noticing. In any case, this is a very fine effort and I'd be interested in knowing how long it took (not including the aborted fiddle attempt). I agree that as long as the technique is noticed, we're good.

Some people see life in black and white and would never have it any other way.

Sorry to say but...

This is a wonderful photo by Arthur Rothstein, and it needs no "improvement" by colorizing. If Mr. Rothstein had intended to use color, he would have. I have to say I have always been opposed to meddling and altering any photographer's black and white work be it still or motion pictures. An image being "public domain" gives no one the right to deface an original work.

[You'll doubtless be relieved to learn that the original negative reposes, unmolested, in the vaults of the Library of Congress. - Dave]

OK with me

I agree with Gnostar. I don't mind the colorization as long as the photos are identified as such -- when there could be doubt. I also suspect the contributor's re-colorization of the fiddle is pretty close.

gblawson missed one for the accordion, as told by Little Jimmy Dickens:

"The definition of a gentleman is someone who can play the accordian -- and doesn't!"

Waste of Space

And so the purpose of posting this waste of space is...????

[To see your comment! - Dave]

Violin color.

I added the color in photoshop. Hope you don't mind.

No objection

Nice job (not that I know anything about how to colorize a picture). And for the record, I'm happy to see colorized images on this site, as long as they're identified as such and it looks like they could be exhibiting natural shades.
Now who wants to take on some of those Civil War camp scenes?

I resent that statement....!

# Playing the banjo is a lot like throwing a javelin blindfolded: you don't have to be very good to get people's attention.

# What do you say to the banjo player in the three piece suit?
"Will the defendant please rise."

# What do you get when you throw a banjo and an accordion off the Empire State Building?
Who cares?

# What do you call 25 banjos up to their necks in sand?
Not enough sand.

# What do you call 100 banjos at the bottom of the ocean?
A good start.

# What did the banjo player get on his IQ test?

# Why do some people take an instant aversion to banjo players?
It saves time in the long run.

# What will you never say about a banjo player?
That's the banjo player's Porsche.

# Banjo players are a lot like sharks: they think they have to keep playing or they'll sink.

# How can you tell the difference between all the banjo songs?
By their names.

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