Black and white photos can be absolutely gorgeous–why do you think Instagram keeps those black and white filters around? As lovely as they can be though, we’re kind of at a disadvantage when it comes to viewing history through photos. The invention of the camera means we can see events and people from history, but the fact that colour photography wasn’t widely used until the 1950’s also means we miss out on key details in pictures. Marina Amaral is an artist who’s changing that.
Amaral recolours historical black and white photos with meticulous attention to detail, in-depth research and consultation with historians. Some pieces will take her over a month to colour because she wants to make sure that the shades she is using are as close to reality as possible.
She says that in adding colour, she hopes to help the subjects of the photos retell their stories. In particular, she cites a photo of a little girl in Auschwitz that she recoloured. She found out from the photographer that the girl had been hit in the face moments before the photo was taken. He pointed out that dark marks on her lips were blood and that shading in her cheeks were bruises. By adding those details, Amaral feels she is revealing that girl’s story and letting a formerly silenced voice be heard.
‘I’m not trying to change history. I’m just offering a second view, a second perspective, a different way to see what happened,’ she told CTV, ‘This process is a great way to make people feel more connected to the stories.’
Each colour choice represents a careful decision and sometimes weeks of research. Amaral says that the hardest section of any portrait is the skin. She wants to get everything just right.
‘They’re unusually good,’ said Canadian art professor Dr. Joel McKim, ‘One of the things that’s special about Marina’s photographs is the amount of human care, attention, knowledge and labour that goes into them.’
Got some old family photographs you’d love to see in full colour? Amaral does commissioned photos too.