In recent months, images have been circulating on the internet of historic photos, colourised. These photos have made viewers gasp as they see famous faces and events brought to life, shocked at the power simple colours can impart. Our editor, Victoria Howard spoke to the magician behind these photos, Marina Amaral – a 21-year-old from Brazil – to learn about her story and the amazing work she undertakes in her spare time.
How did you get involved in colouring photos? Is art your background?
I have no idea of how it all started because it wasn’t planned. I’ve always loved history, but art and photography were never in my thinking and never caught my eye in a special way. However, I’ve always enjoyed using Photoshop in my free time, so I already had a pretty good idea of how the software worked when I decided to try to colorise photos (for fun) for the first time. This happened in 2015 and since then I have never stopped.
What’s your favourite photo you have worked on and why?
My favourite portrait is the one of Czeslawa Kwoka [a 14 year-old prisoner at Auschwitz, below], because I think it is much more powerful to see her face in colour and thankfully people feel the same way when they see it. It’s important to relate to the victims first, then you are able to better understand what the Holocaust really represented. That’s why that photo is so important to me.
An event photo, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II is one of my favourites for sure! I spent many hours trying to reproduce the original colours of the outfits of all the guests, based on the footage that already existed in colour. So basically the colours you see are almost all 100% authentic.
Frederick Douglass (1818-95). Born a slave, he was a prominent American abolitionist, author and orator. pic.twitter.com/AFo3FJpGmH
— Marina Amaral (@marinamaral2) September 10, 2017
Which piece have you had the most response to?
The portrait of Czeslawa Kwoka, for sure.
Why do you think people react respond to your work so well?
Once you see a photograph in colour, you can immediately feel a more deep and intimate connection with the event you’re looking at. At least I feel this way. So I think people realise that those people really existed, that those historical events really happened, and all of the sudden everything becomes more real and more relatable.
Have the results of any of your work had an unexpected effect on you?
It is always very hard to work on photos of the Holocaust, for example. I need to spend hours working on the photos, so it is inevitable not to think about the fate of that person whom I am colouring. It’s a difficult job, but it is also necessary and important.
Can you tell me how you work on a photo to bring it to life?
I choose the photos based on my personal interest in that given subject. The photo then goes through a research process, which is sometimes more superficial and sometimes more complex. That’s when I’ll try to identify as many colours as possible of particular objects. Only then, after gathering all this information, the colourisation begins.
All the digital editing is done by hand in Photoshop, and often involves hundreds of different layers.
Cleaning up these details in the photos is a time-consuming process but it makes all the difference. pic.twitter.com/yXm0Jvj2Jw
— Marina Amaral (@marinamaral2) September 5, 2017
How long does this all take?
It’s a manual process, so depending on the photo, I can finish everything within 40 minutes or in up to 4 days or more.
Tell me more about your book with historian Dan Jones, a medieval specialist.
It’s an amazing book. It will be out in September 2018 and we are really excited and proud about this project. It is a book that will cover the birth of the modern world, from the 1850s to the 1960s.
I’m working on 200 exclusive photos that will be seen in colour for the first time in history. Dan, who is an extraordinary author, is writing the captions that anchor each photograph in a chronological context, and it has been an absolutely fun and enjoyable process to work with. We’ve been working together for almost two years and I can’t wait for everyone to see it!
Here is some more of Marina’s work; please note there are images from the Holocaust, which some may find disturbing.