Saturday, 7 November 2015

‘Colourisation’ – and why it is creating a false history.

In recent times there is a growing trend to ‘colourise’ (or colorize) monochromatic images. Some claim that this ‘process’ is recovering lost information.
I would like these so- called ‘Photoshop artists’ – who say that they are using computer software to determine the colour values of a mono print to try a little experiment.  The image below is made up of three colours, separated by two black stripes. I reduced the colours to monochromatic values – now please tell me the actual colours. (the answer is at the end of this article).

At best – and I’m being charitable here – the so- called ‘Photoshop artist’ is using known colours from external sources to apply those colour values to the mono image – A mono image of a London Transport double-decker bus in a busy London street taken in the 1960s is likely to be something approaching post office red. Likewise a picture of a Court Line Lockheed L-1011 TriStar taxiing past the Vauxhall car-park at Luton is either three shades of yellow/orange or three shades of pink – and if you know the registration of the aircraft in the picture, you know which, as there was only two aircraft painted in these colours.

London Transport Routemaster bus - right?

Post office red - right?

But how do you actually KNOW the colours of things in the background? Grass is grass, so there is a fair chance it’s green, but wait – sunburnt grass is often brown – quite a difference there!
Lets go back to that London bus – what’s the colours of the cars alongside it?  What’s the colours of the clothes the people are wearing? What is the colours of the goods in the shop windows – or the actual colours of the shop fronts for that matter? The same applies to the cars in the car-park at Luton. Do we actually KNOW?

So, it’s clear that experience, knowledge and research plays a huge part in determining the colours used. But how many ‘Photoshop artists’ actually spend the time and effort in doing that – preferring instead to make a best guess and coming up with something that ‘looks good’.

Now there is nothing wrong with that if the resulting image is just for their own pleasure – but given the nature of the internet, images do not often stay ‘private’ – people are proud of their work and like to show it off, therefore it’s not long before these images are in the public domain in places like Facebook – the next thing you know is that they are copied, and instead of stating, ‘….hey folks, look what I have colourised’. They resurface as ‘colour photo of XXX discovered’ with people claiming that they are 100% authentic!

This is what I mean by faking history – I know I’m screaming into the wind, and no matter what I say I’m not going to stop it – but I still think it’s wrong – and in terms of future historians, dangerously wrong. Oh… and the colours at the start of this?.... R G B!