Thursday, December 5, 2013

Giving Life To Your Ancestors II

Colorizing Old Photos

Copyright Dana Keller
After reading about Dana's work in an article on the web and seeing her colorized photos, I became very interested to "bring to life" one of my ancestors, my great grandfather Francisco Machado Drummond, from Terceira Island, Azores. The result was great and it reflects what I was waiting for a long time, to be able to see my great grandfather like in the real life. I love it!

My great grandfather Francisco Machado Drummond, 1927.

I kindly asked him for an interview and the result you can read below.

Interview with Dana Keller from History in Color Copyright Dana Keller
Dana, tell me a little bit about you, your bio.
My name is Dana Keller, and I'm currently finishing up grad school in Boston, MA, studying archival science. My undergrad was in graphic design, and I've had several years experience in photography, which helps in understanding the roles that light and color plays in images. I've been colorizing photos for about 10 months.
How your background as an archivist creates awareness on preserving photos and the impact on what you have been doing with historical photos.
The controversy around this is interesting. Firstly, the overall response to the colorizations has been very positive. The majority of people see the photos in a new way when they are colorized, and it actually helps them to appreciate the events and figures of the past as more relevant. Conversely, as an archivist, it is essentially my job to conserve documents/photographs as they are, and to preserve them for future generations. Several archivists in my circle (and many people in general), tend to see colorizations as a misrepresentation of history or even a deliberate defacing or violation of the original record. While I can see their perspective, it should be clear that colorizations are done out of a reverence and respect for history, and the reason they exist is to give the viewer an opportunity to see an image from history with a different perspective, not to replace or change the original records. The originals are still here for us all to see and enjoy.

Copyright Dana Keller

How did your work of coloring photos in a digital format started and when you realized that people was responding well to it?

My interest began when I discovered a collection of colorized photos online that was getting a lot of attention for being very realistic. To me, these photos, while very carefully and skillfully colorized, did not really look true-to-life, but more like paintings. They no longer looked like photographs. I had seen many colorizations before, and it has always been very obvious that they were colorized. I wondered if it was possible to colorize photos and concentrate on the subtleties of realistic colors and shading, perhaps with enough skill to make it seem as if it really was an actual color photograph. I posted a few images online as I was getting started with colorizations, and the response was very positive. People were recognizing them as a little different than previous colorizations they had seen, in that they weren't distracted by the fact that it was a colorization, and were rather viewing the photo in a new way, as if it was really in color.
Family heirlooms are very important to the families they belong and an old photo from a relative means a lot to them. Can you explain how your work is done in a digital format and that the original photo is not changed or affected in any way?
Photos of our family members are very important, and people want to keep those photographs safe and close to them. Often times a black and white photograph is all someone have ever seen of their relatives from long ago. They do not want anything to happen to those heirlooms. When families want their photographs colorized, it is always because they want to feel a closer connection to the history of their family, and to see them in color would make them seem that much more real. Of course, we want to have the original photo remain untouched. The photographs are scanned into a digital image, and all of the colorization is done in a digital environment, with no alterations to the physical photo.

Copyright Dana Keller
I know you have been coloring a broad amount of subjects in photographs, but I would like to know more about your work with family photographs. What type of photos people usually send to you, adult portraits, children portraits or family portraits? Do they have any special requesting for you?
There is always a wide variety of photos, which makes it very interesting: family portraits, weddings, military, vacations, casual snapshots, holidays, etc. Each photo is unique, so there is no typical photo. Usually, any requests beyond the colorization involve some restoration work to clean up scratches and tears in the photo. There aren't many unusual requests, though I have had one request to extend a photograph in order to include a little bit of a person that had been cropped in the photo, which means I had to essentially paint in the missing pieces!
If someone willing to have their family member photo digitally colorized but doesn’t have a scan to do it, can you scan the photo for them? Tell me the steps, if you do so.
I don't currently scan photos myself, though I do plan to soon invest in a high quality scanner so that I can offer that as an option.
Copyright Dana Keller
Last but not the least, is there any special family photo that you worked on and have touched you in some way?
I recently worked on a photo of a man's grandmother, which depicted her in a park when she was a beautiful young woman. The grandson who commissioned me was planning on giving her the colorized photo this Christmas. It is one of his favorite photos of her because it is one of the few in which she was smiling. Tragically, his grandmother passed away before he had the chance to give it to her. He has let me know that the photograph will be displayed at her funeral, and even though she did not get to see it, he was so happy that the last image people will have of her will be of her smile and her love of life.

Contact info for Dana Keller:

Facebook page 

and email

thehistoryincolor at