- Michael D Carroll
Retrographic is a book which has taken over 100 iconic black and white photographs and re-coloured them, then aged in some cases to look like an original photograph. The work that has gone into these must have been huge, researching the correct colours for the time, getting the light falling properly and producing a photograph that looks as though it was taken with coloured film. These really are works of art in their own right. A wee criticism here is that not all have the original photograph so we can see the transformation, indeed very few have. That is a great pity and I feel the authors have missed a huge opportunity to show the difference that colour makes. In the introduction Jeff Vickers explains the reasoning behind this colourisation in that it gives new generations an insight to the world that lies behind them. I don’t fully agree with that as I will explain later. The first photograph shown in the book does show a before and after, of a Geisha Girl with the black and white image taken in the 1930s. Nothing is changed in the photograph, lines, expressions, how the clothes are worn are all the same, only the colour has changed, which of course changes the whole picture. The transformation is quite stunning and the subject almost jumps off the page purely because of the colouring.
The photographs are mostly American and range from the last American Revolutionary photographed in 1855 through to a picture of “Tricky Dicky” Nixon leaving the Presidency by helicopter. There are photographs from the American Civil War and one just confuses me as the artist has coloured a photograph of dead on the battlefield of Gettysburg yet the black and white photograph is not the coloured one but another one from a series of photographs taken. The artist explains that he is trying to show bodies that have been moved to line up a shot but for the purposes of this book it would have been better to use the original and coloured versions, in my opinion. To be fair though he is also trying to show that the photographs had been used for propaganda reasons in that the original caption had then as dead Confederate soldiers whereas they were in fact Union soldiers, as indicated by their badges. They have been coloured in to show them as Union.
OK, that is enough moaning from me. This is a really good book, well presented and the text with each photograph takes the reader through the history of the photograph. The photographs cover many aspects of life from war, through to the likes of the building of No 1Times Square NY, to the Hindenburg airship disaster to ordinary family life, good and not so. Most of the photographs are recognisable as iconic of their day and are well known, such as the one used on the front cover of the US sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square on VE Day. The selection of pictures covering such a huge period in time is interesting in its own right, selected for their historical interest as well as the colouring of the image from black and white.
For anyone with an interest in photography especially historical photography then this book really is a must for you as it covers so much in nearly 200 years of photography, the majority of that time in black and white imagery. However, and here we go again, I am not sure what the gain is by colouring in these iconic photographs. I know the author says that it gives an insight into the world as it was and the First World War was not fought in black and white if you were there, but those are my memories which this book disturbs a little, which maybe is not a bad thing.
The book has been well put together and the editor has done a great job in presenting the selections of the six other participants. The paper is heavy gloss which helps the photographs stand out and the text which goes with each picture is detailed, interesting and more to the point compliments the photograph being displayed.
I will give this book 3.5 out of 5 as it is an excellent book, it would have been a higher score had the coloured pictures all had the original to compare.