Skip

"In Vibrant Color"
February 26, 2012 6:55 AM   Subscribe

Rare full-color photos of celebrities of the 1930s and 40s as they appeared in the New York Daily News, taken by staff photographer Harry Warnecke. Warnecke is less renowned than other photographers of the period, but was one of the very first to make use of the challenging tri-color carbro process for these celebrity photos. His work is drawing attention in advance of the opening of a show of his portraits at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC, which opens next week.

The Salon article has a not-too-obnoxious slideshow of 11 of the pictures, while the Washington Post article (second link) has some direct links to the Smithsonian's online collection, but the material is duplicative. Of them, the ones I like best are W.C. Fields and Orson Welles.
posted by briank (37 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
That W C Fields one is amazing. Never thought I'd see him in color.
posted by magstheaxe at 7:07 AM on February 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


These are remarkable! It's like seeing a thing in a way that had previous been denied you, and which you had no hope of ever experiencing.

And Welles! He looks so young!
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:20 AM on February 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


For obviously posed pictures, they are remarkably not wooden somehow.
posted by biscotti at 7:34 AM on February 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Back then photographers often asked subjects to not look at the camera. To our "smile and say cheese" culture they look almost like candids. The shallow DOF characteristic of large negatives is also generally unfamiliar to modern eyes when the subject is more than a few feet distant.

The WC Fields one is my favourite, but Ted Williams on a neighbourhood lot is awesome too.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:46 AM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess Ike had a lot to smile about in 1945, assuming it's post war, but it still somehow seems odd to see him with a positively gleeful look on his face.
posted by mollweide at 7:46 AM on February 26, 2012


I agree -- they are really alive. I wonder if it's just the color or what.

For example, I don't necessarily think "Dwight Eisenhower" and "expression of pure joy" -- but yet.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:46 AM on February 26, 2012


Yeah that's a fantastic WC Fields portrait. The photos are impressive, but I'm even more astounded that the Daily News printed them in color. How many newspapers had full color printing capability in the 1930s? My memory is it wasn't until USA Today in the 80s that color printing became common for newspapers.
posted by Nelson at 7:47 AM on February 26, 2012


(I was agreeing with biscotti -- though I do with mollweide as well.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:47 AM on February 26, 2012


I was curious about how he took the photos in the first place. Tricolor carbro is a well known process today. I figured he just used a conventional camera and color transparency film using something like Kodachrome, then used filters in the darkroom to make color separations. That technology was available when these photos were made. Before that, color photos were usually taken with a complex custom camera rig that produced in-camera separations on 3 separate pieces of film, he couldn't possibly have done that, could he? Then the WaPo article explains:

At the time, the tricolor carbro process was so rare that Warnecke built his own “one-shot” camera, which used filters to separate images into red, blue, and green pigments, creating bold, enduring color.

Yeah, that's serious camerawork.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:48 AM on February 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


The photo of Babe Didrikson is a rough.
She was a great athlete - I never knew she looked so ghoulish.
posted by Flood at 7:49 AM on February 26, 2012


Yes, the Fields one is fantastic--it makes me feel sort of warm inside, like it's a long-lost uncle having a pint at a family picnic.

And, Welles is, indeed, remarkable. He was a beautiful and terrible child genius. I'm reading Rosebud, Thomson's biography of Welles, these days. The show would have been for the Mercury Theatre on the Air, and '39 would have put it after War of the Worlds. He was living in LA by that time, I think, and traveling back to NY for the CBS broadcasts. A handsome, handsome devil.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:49 AM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really want the curtains in the Gene Autry backdrop. Are those hobo signs or brands for ranches or just awesome shapes?
posted by hydrobatidae at 7:54 AM on February 26, 2012


These are really cool, thanks! I'm sending the Jackie Robinson one to my grandfather; he actually saw Jackie Robinson play when he was much younger and it's something of which he's very proud. I think that this will mean a lot to him and it will mean a lot as well that I thought to send it to him. Thank you for giving this to both of us!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:59 AM on February 26, 2012


I agree -- they are really alive. I wonder if it's just the color or what.

Seriously. Something kept throwing me, in a good way. Maybe it's that i'm so used to seeing these people in black and white and thinking of them as long gone, but they don't feel that way in these. Wells especially caught me off guard. He looks in that photo like a current actor portraying him to me. I love these, but i'm sad that we don't have a longer history of color photography. There are so many things and people i'd love to see in more true colors. That's it, if i invent a time machine, i'm going to go around the past photographing everything and everyone. ;)
posted by usagizero at 8:00 AM on February 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Everyone looks so different. Eisenhower looks (more) like a psychopath. Babe Didrikson is sort of terrifying, and Gene Autry just looks like some guy. Fields and Welles look as they rightfully should, though.
posted by cmoj at 8:15 AM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Orson Welles is looking fine!
posted by Tesseractive at 8:18 AM on February 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


Actually, I think the Ted Williams one is best. But not because of Williams. Look at the background. So real.
posted by DU at 8:43 AM on February 26, 2012


These pictures are fascinating! The pictures don't look like typical relics of the past, and they make the people in them look more "real", almost contemporary. I've never seen a picture of such a young Orson Welles!
posted by random thoughts at 8:55 AM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


These were awesome - had to send them on to my parents :)

Orson Welles was a fuckin' hotty!
WC Fields was great, and those blue pants for Gene Autry -- Blinded by all the blue (though that shirt was pretty sweet).

And looking at the Ted Williams, I could see Tom Hanks playing him, there's some facial similarities methinks.

And Eisenhower? I swear that's the original Trollface!
posted by symbioid at 10:34 AM on February 26, 2012


I was hoping to see a Marx brother.
posted by theredpen at 10:39 AM on February 26, 2012


And looking at the Ted Williams, I could see Tom Hanks playing him, there's some facial similarities methinks.

I was thinking he looked a lot like Ed Norton. I agree, I like this one - the dirt on his clothes also makes it a very real shot.

The Welles one struck me. It's easy to forget that they were real people, and young and vibrant.

I always get a kick out of the 30--s and 40s shots of the country/western musicians like Hank Williams and Autry and Merle Travis. Their outfits were awesome and ridiculous at the same time, and ironically, given that they have as a group been held as conservative figures, they strike a very dandy chord.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:28 AM on February 26, 2012


And Welles! He looks so young!

Well, yeah. He was 23 or 24.

But, yeah, having just looked that up, it is surprising that he was that young in 1939. I mean, Citizen Kane came out two years later.

Citizen Kane was directed by a 25-year-old.

Fuck.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:31 AM on February 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


Newspapers could bring the color when they wanted to. Here's a Little Nemo in Slumberland strip from the early 20th century.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 11:49 AM on February 26, 2012


I love the Orson Welles one, which clearly dates back to when he was still lead singer of The Talking Heads.
posted by sonascope at 12:13 PM on February 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wonder why he used Carbro in the first place? Technicolor had been around since the 1920s, Kodachrome came in the 1930s, Agfa and others had lots of color processes that were simpler and more than effective at the same time these photos were taken. Don't get me wrong, they're awesome photos, I'm just curious as to why he'd go the hard route to get the results. I love the irregular overlap between the color plates at the edges, which reminds me that it's not just a single picture, it's the exacting overlap of various layers of color.

Are those hobo signs or brands for ranches or just awesome shapes?

I think they're supposed to be cattle brands, but they're all a bit too complex to be the real thing. I think, like everything Autry is wearing, it is meant to evoke a child's imagination-view of what the cowboy world was like.
posted by AzraelBrown at 2:37 PM on February 26, 2012


I've done it so you don't have to. I wanted to see more of his colour work so I did a few searches. Here are the results in one place. • Abbe LaneSigne HassoAudrey TotterVera ZorinaBathing suit modelsCorrine CalvetDorothy HartRosario & AntonioSally & Tony DeMarcoMarilyn MaxwellPaulette GoddardShirley TempleAnner BaxterLucille BallPatrice WymoreMadge Evans.
posted by unliteral at 3:07 PM on February 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Cattle brands, definitely. That was a big motif that popped up in design books right up until the '70s, usually accompanied by a lot of wood paneling, rustic stone fireplaces, and decoratively-nailed-to-the-wall-in-a-squiggly-line rope.

Interestingly, one of the "brands" on that particular curtain appears to be a Masonic square-and-compass design. Hmm.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:08 PM on February 26, 2012


That Jackie Robinson was all kinds of handsome, wasn't he?
posted by Biblio at 3:23 PM on February 26, 2012


But, yeah, having just looked that up, it is surprising that he was that young in 1939. I mean, Citizen Kane came out two years later.

By 1939, Welles had already scared the piss out of a nation through a little radio play he produced. A year earlier. When he was 22.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:24 PM on February 26, 2012


Orson Welles playing Johnny Depp playing Orson Welles.
posted by nev at 7:33 PM on February 26, 2012


Seconding that the Welles and Fields ones are very striking - but Babe Didrikson! My goodness! I guess I've mostly seen pictures of when she was younger with short hair, but boy does she look different here.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:34 PM on February 26, 2012


I wonder why he used Carbro in the first place? Technicolor had been around since the 1920s, Kodachrome came in the 1930s, Agfa and others had lots of color processes that were simpler and more than effective at the same time these photos were taken.

Carbro has some technical qualities that were superior to anything available at the time, and in many ways, it still is. It has a very linear tonal range, so it can capture more tonal quality than silver processes. It can deposit a hell of a lot of pigment so the prints can be very bright. And it's totally archival. Carbro is expensive and more of a fine art process (and was so, even back then) so these prints were showpieces.

But I think maybe the reason he did this process was for his newspaper. His camera produced color separations that were ready to print on offset printing presses.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:34 PM on February 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


These were fantastic. Orson Welles looks a little like Jack Black to my eye (if he was spruced up). Babe Didrickson? Never heard of her before, but um, that's not a flattering photo.
posted by Joh at 9:44 PM on February 26, 2012


Babe Didrickson is the foremost female athlete of the 20th century - very cool historic figure, well worth reading up on.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:57 PM on February 26, 2012


NYT profile of Babe Didrikson gives a richer picture of her life.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:19 PM on February 26, 2012


These are just lovely. Totally worth posting if only for that Bill Fields image. As stated above, there's something really sweet about that pic; Fields looks happy and relaxed, which is unusual. It was thrilling to see his photo but made me wish he was around now; there's such a sense of "alive-ness" in color.
posted by kinnakeet at 7:23 AM on February 27, 2012


I love these, but i'm sad that we don't have a longer history of color photography. There are so many things and people i'd love to see in more true colors.
posted by usagizero at 11:00 AM on February 26



Color photographs from early 1900s Russia (more photos; the collection)

World War I Color Photos (some more here)

World War II: The American Home Front in Color


I love stuff like this. :)
posted by magstheaxe at 11:32 AM on February 27, 2012


« Older In present day, Garfield and Jon have oval shaped...   |   Maybe these are the droids you're looking for Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post