I've always felt that the past was somehow obscured by being viewed solely through a greyscale window
January 16, 2004 2:45 AM   Subscribe

[this is good]
posted by spazzm at 3:24 AM on January 16, 2004

Like that? Check out the exhibit at the Library of Congress
posted by plinth at 3:40 AM on January 16, 2004

[this is very good]
posted by plep at 4:29 AM on January 16, 2004

It was good back then, too.
posted by drinkcoffee at 4:34 AM on January 16, 2004

wow, that's great... the combination of age and colour kinda messes with my head. I've never seen that link before so thanks.
posted by Onanist at 4:41 AM on January 16, 2004

very very cool. great find.
posted by moonbird at 4:46 AM on January 16, 2004

It amazing how some of those places, Russian villages and churches especially, look exactly the same today...

I am always amazed how my sense of history is bound with pictures. We usually see colourphotos only from WWII on. Older pics remind me that life went on the same even before that.

Maybe staged/photoshopped photos of old historic events should be done to make them more "real" for history lessons? Or maybe they should be called "perspective" lessons.
posted by hoskala at 5:02 AM on January 16, 2004

posted by putzface_dickman at 5:28 AM on January 16, 2004

Here's my question: How come some of you Photoshop wizards don't go through the whole catalogue of 19th century photography, and put every ounce of your intelligence to work on the challenge of transforming them into realistic color images? Give us a color Lincoln! Give us a color Civil War! If someone can create the spectacular effects we see in modern digitally enhanced films and characters like Gollum, why can't we digitally enhance simple static photographs to look like something better than Turnerized movies? Color is all. Death to black and white!
posted by Faze at 7:29 AM on January 16, 2004

Faze, the problem is that most black and white pictures were not taken using the method described in the link:
A Russian photographer, named Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, working in the years just before World War I, developed an ingenious process for creating color image projections. Take three black and white photographs of the same scene, each one through a different colored filter (green, red, and blue, the three additive primaries). Later, using a special projector, project the plates back through the same filters, and get a single color image on the wall. Not exactly a color photograph, but still very, very interesting and quite ahead of its time.
If you have the three black and white plates for a single photograph, you can fiddle with them in photoshop to get the colors of the scene. If you don't have the three color-filtered photos, it's much harder to reconstruct a true-color photo.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:34 AM on January 16, 2004

I saw these at U of O art museum about 10 years ago, then this exhibition was travelling. It was breathtaking and in way, like being there. No power lines, or anything else that came along later, that one would associate with more recent photos.
posted by Danf at 7:44 AM on January 16, 2004

First rate post, magullo. This made my morning.
posted by mischief at 7:55 AM on January 16, 2004

This isn't a double-post, drinkcoffee -- this is volunteers on the internet continuing the work started by the LoC. I was wondering if somebody would do this, and I'm glad to see it happen. Collaboration, public domain images, history -- everything about this is cool.
posted by Eamon at 7:56 AM on January 16, 2004

I remembered yesterday when I read that NASA is using a similar process to take color pictures of the Red planet with the Spirit rover.

"The Pancam does not make a color picture directly. Instead, it records light versus dark in shades of gray. As with other CCD cameras used in high-end astrophotography, such as on the Hubble Space Telescope, a series of filters are applied to gather multiple images that are then blended together."

Which got me wondering if you could pull off a cheap Foveon like camera using a cheaper digital camera with three filters and black and white...
posted by togdon at 8:08 AM on January 16, 2004

Wow, thanks magullo.
posted by carter at 8:46 AM on January 16, 2004

Which got me wondering if you could pull off a cheap Foveon like camera using a cheaper digital camera with three filters and black and white...

Lots of video cameras use that method; any one that says "3CCD" does it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:10 AM on January 16, 2004

Magical & magnificent, magullo.

I almost feel like I'm intruding on the people shown in the photos: previously their colour was secreted away, distance was created by black & white photography, but now I see the colour that 'history' hid, and it feels like I'm an intruder to their colour-world; a time-travelling peeping-tom peering into a world I shouldn't be seeing, by all the laws of the cosmos.
posted by Blue Stone at 9:15 AM on January 16, 2004

The was a PBS program with colour footage from World War II, a war most of us remember/imagine in black and white.
posted by teg at 9:39 AM on January 16, 2004

Rather, THERE was
posted by teg at 9:41 AM on January 16, 2004

It's all a fraud, I tell you! I learned the truth from Calvin & Hobbes:

Calvin: How come old photographs are always black and white? Didn't they have color film back then?
Dad: Sure they did. In fact, those old photographs are in color. It's just that the world was black and white then. The world didn't turn color until sometime in the 1930s, and it was pretty grainy color for a while, too.
Calvin: But then why are old paintings in color?! If the world was black and white, wouldn't artists have painted it that way?
Dad: Not necessarily. A lot of great artists were insane.
Calvin: But... But how could they have painted in color anyway? Wouldn't their paints have been shades of gray back then?
Dad: Of course, but they turned colors like everything else did in the '30s.
Calvin: So why didn't old black and white photos turn color too?
Dad: Because they were color pictures of black and white, remember?
posted by pmurray63 at 10:02 AM on January 16, 2004

yeah, I saw this last time and its still amazing now. I guess looking at a black and white photo dosn't have nearly the same sort of actuality you get from a color image. It's very disconcerting.

You can colorise any old b&w photo just like you can colorize a blank canvas, but it's always just your intrepretation.
posted by delmoi at 11:59 AM on January 16, 2004

By the by, I use Prokudin-Gorskii plate scans in a 9th grade class I teach on technology. I have them restore a set of his photographs using Photoshop.

Some of the mill shots are pretty amazing--seeing working mills of that era in color is mind boggling.

Of course, James Maxwell got there first in the 1860's.
posted by plinth at 12:11 PM on January 16, 2004

Danf: no power lines? What do you call this, than?
posted by blindcarboncopy at 12:39 PM on January 16, 2004

posted by plinth at 3:53 PM on January 16, 2004

Excellent link. Thank you.
posted by mathis23 at 4:18 PM on January 16, 2004

Which got me wondering if you could pull off a cheap Foveon like camera using a cheaper digital camera with three filters and black and white...

Lots of video cameras use that method; any one that says "3CCD" does it.

Not quite, a Three CCD camera uses a prisim to split the light, which is then collected on three seperate CCDs. slight differences in optical path and CCD quality and alignment can result is a slightly inaccurate image.

A single CCD with varying filter can gather a slightly more accurate image, as the alignment remains identical, the CCD quality and sensativity does not vary and the optical path should be perfect.

You'd never notice it in a TV broadcast, but for some high-spec imaging tasks a single filtered CCD is prefered.

As well as scientific applications, I believe that some very high-end film scanners used in digitial post production use this technique.

I've just spent the last 30 minutes putting a few these prints together in photoshop, and it's truely incredible that these images are almost 100 years old!
posted by sycophant at 8:32 PM on January 16, 2004

Nice pics, shame there's no thumbnails.
posted by daveg at 9:35 AM on January 17, 2004

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