Since the ingenious invention of the camera, history’s greatest and worst moments have been captured on film. However, as recently as the 1960s, color photography was extremely rare. While old photos give an intriguing and comprehensive idea of what life was like in the past, some believe that black and white photos can’t fully capture a vivid picture or a moment in time.
Recent technology, however, has meant that many photography hobbyists are able to use their Photoshopping skills to colorize old black and white photos. This practice is a growing trend, notably on Reddit with many users posting updated, colorized photographs.
Is this a form of revisionist history? Some have argued that there’s a level of disrespect in these Photoshop whizzes enforcing modern standards on historically valuable sources. The fact is that generation Y and millennials are probably unfamiliar with black and white photography in general, having grown up in an age where color photography is almost universally used. Does the colorization of the photo drastically change the intent of the photographer? And how would the person who Photoshopped the image even know the correct colors to use, since there’s no reference to go by?
Whatever you feel about the practice of colorizing historical photos, there’s no doubt that it’s visually exciting and gives a uniquely relatable aspect to iconic photos from the past. Here, we’ve taken a look at 10 of the most famous moments in history captured on camera that have been updated with color. Is colorization a way to explore the past or is it altering the way we record history? You be the judge.
10. Elvis Presley meets President Richard Nixon
The King of Rock and Roll met then President Richard Nixon on December 21, 1970. Elvis meeting Nixon was really nothing more than a publicity stunt: Elvis collected police badges and guns, and he really wanted to add a Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs badge to his collection. So, Elvis wrote a letter to Nixon asking to become an honorary member of the task force. A Nixon aide and Elvis fan received the letter and set up the meeting. Priscilla Presley wrote in her memoir, Elvis and Me, that Elvis believed he could enter any country carrying any sort of drugs and firearms he wished thanks to the badge.
9. Hitler and Goebbels meet at Obersalzberg
The mountainside retreat in the Bavarian Alps known as Obersalzberg was the location of Adolf Hitler’s vacation home, the Berghof. Hitler spent a lot of time planning atrocities here during World War II, and would often meet with top officials in the Nazi Party such as Joseph Goebbels, who was the Reich Minister of Propaganda. The home was bombed by British aerial forces and then looted by Allied forces. After the end of the war, the Bavarian government demolished what was left of the site in 1952.
8. Booker T. Washington in his office at the Tuskegee Institute
Booker T. Washington was a civil rights activist and politician who served as an advisor for a number of presidents during his life. He was born into slavery, and after the Emancipation Proclamation he acted as a representative for former slaves. He was a driving force behind the Atlanta Compromise, which focused more on peaceful resolution and education of the black community in the south rather than violent uprising in an effort for civil rights.
7. Sharon Tate before the Manson Family murdered her
Sharon Tate was a promising newcomer in Hollywood before she was brutally murdered by members of Charles Manson’s cult, the Manson Family, in August of 1969. Tate was eight months pregnant when she and her friends were murdered in Tate’s home. The father of the child she was carrying was her husband Roman Polanski. Tate had been stabbed sixteen times.
6. Newspaper boy sells evening editions announcing the Titanic has sunk
The crash of the RMS Titanic was one of the greatest maritime disasters in all of history. On April 15, 1912, the Titanic crashed into an iceberg in the North Atlantic during it’s maiden voyage from Southampton, England to its intended final destination of New York. More than 1,500 people died in the horrific accident.
5. Lincoln meets with General McClellan at Antietam
The Battle of Antietam in 1862 was a victory for the Union in the Civil War, but it was not the decisive victory that President Lincoln had hoped for. Following the battle, General McClellan did not immediately pursue General Robert E. Lee’s retreating forces. Lincoln visited McClellan to persuade McClellan to take advantage of the situation and attack. Lincoln would deliver the Emancipation Proclamation early the next year.
4. General Robert E. Lee following his surrender and the end of the Civil War
The American Civil War ended on April 16, 1865. Lee at first was not intending to surrender, but after an initial battle between Ulysses S. Grant and his forces at Appomattox Court House Lee realized the fight was hopeless. Grant’s respect for Lee and his hope of restoring Confederate states to the Union were the reasons that Lee was allowed to keep his sword and his horse when he surrendered.
3. Samurai in 1881
By 1881, the reign of the Samurai in Japan was coming to an end. Emperor Meiji took power in 1867 and in 1873 he began to phase out the Samurai by introducing a more western style army. Samurais soon lost their position of power and were no longer the only armed force in Japan.
2. Battle of Iwo Jima
The battle of Iwo Jima between the United States and the Empire of Japan was one of the bloodiest in all of World War II. Six thousand eight hundred and twenty one American soldiers were killed while 18,844 Japanese soldiers were killed. The Japanese were outnumbered more than three to one, so the Americans’ win was virtually assured.
1. Ernie Hare comments on prohibition
Ernie Hare was a popular recording artist and radio star in the 1920s. Here, he’s showing his displeasure with prohibition in this famous photo. Prohibition lasted for 13 years in the United States, from 1920 to 1933. The repeal of prohibition happened with the ratification of the 21st Amendment on December 5, 1933, and the repeal movement was started and financed by the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment, which included high profile members like the Du Pont family and John D. Rockefeller, Jr.