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Olive Oatman was abducted by the Native Americans who'd just clubbed her family to death before her eyes while traveling through present-day Arizona in 1851. After the attackers traded her to the Mohave people, she spent four years in captivity before being returned to white society — still bearing the face tattoo she'd been given while imprisoned.Wikimedia Commons/Color by Matt Loughrey
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President Abraham Lincoln stands on the battlefield at Antietam, Maryland with Allan Pinkerton (the famed military intelligence operative who essentially invented the Secret Service, left) and Major General John A. McClernand (right) on Oct. 3, 1862.Alexander Gardner/Library of Congress/Color by Matt Loughrey
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African-American Union soldiers at Dutch Gap, Virginia in November 1864. Library of Congress/Color by Matt Loughrey
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Portrait of Marilyn Monroe taken by Richard Avedon, considered by some to be the most honest picture of her ever taken.Richard Avedon/MoMA
Robert McGee was left permanently scarred after surviving a scalping at the hands of the Sioux tribe in 1864, when he was just a 13-year-old orphan.Wikimedia Commons/Color by Jecinci
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Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels gives the Heil Hitler salute as he watches over his daughters while they do the same during a state Christmas party in Berlin in 1937.Deutsches Bundesarchiv/Wikimedia Commons
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Al Capone after being arrested as he was trying to enter Miami, Florida. He was caught by city police who were trying to keep the notorious gangster out. 1930.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images
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Wild West showman Buffalo Bill Cody with several of his Pawnee and Sioux performers in Staten Island, New York in 1886.McCracken Research Library, Buffalo Bill Center of the West/Color by Matt Loughrey
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A portrait of a Greek Orthodox priest immigrant taken at Ellis Island, New York. Circa 1910s.Augustus Francis Sherman/New York Public Library/Color by Dynamichrome
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The German airship Hindenburg bursts into flames in Manchester Township, New Jersey, on May 6, 1937 after static electricity ignited the hydrogen gas used to keep the craft afloat.Murray Becker/Associated Press/Color by Dana Keller
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A pair of African-American troops pose by artillery during World War II. 1944.National Archives
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Iron White Man, a Sioux Indian from Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Library of Congress/Color by Matt Loughrey
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A staged photo of the samurai's suicide-by-disembowelment ritual known as seppuku. Circa 1880-1890.Pacific Press Service/Granger
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Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, leave the Sarajevo Guildhall on June 28, 1914. Five minutes later, they were assassinated. Their assassination precipitated Austria-Hungary's declaration of war against Serbia which later kicked off World War I.Wikimedia Commons/Color by Matt Loughrey
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Men and women stand in an alley known as "Bandit's Roost" off Mulberry Street in Manhattan. Circa 1887-1890.Jacob Riis/Wikimedia Commons/Color by Ryan Stennes
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Bar patrons hold up their glasses and toast the end of Prohibition. December 1933.Imagno/Getty Images/Color by Ryan Stennes
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A British cavalry sergeant major instructs an American soldier in bayonet charging at Texas’ Camp Dick.US Defense Visual Information Center/Color by Cassowray Colorizations
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After the Civil War, the American West was in large part settled by freed slaves who sought to both distance themselves from their past but also to seek a better future in a place where the established and rigid prejudices of the East held less power over their lives.Wikimedia Commons/Color by Matt Loughrey
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A London fireman wearing a smoke helmet. 1908.Hopewell Museum/Color by Cassowray Colorizations
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Alfred Hitchcock directing on the set of The Birds, released in 1963.Universal/mptvimages.com
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Soviet soldiers charge during the Siege of Leningrad. 1943.
Vsevolod Tarasevich/Russian International News Agency via Wikimedia Commons/Color by Ryan Stennes
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Children lick a massive block of ice in order to stay cool on a hot day. New York City. July 6, 1912.Library of Congress/Color by Ryan Stennes
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The young son of a farmer walks amid the dust in Cimarron County, Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl. April 1936.Arthur Rothstein/Farm security Administration via Library of Congress/Color by Ryan Stennes
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Soldiers of the Royal Irish Rifles during World War I's Battle of the Somme.Royal Engineers No 1 Printing Company/IWM/Getty Images/Color by Cassowray Colorizations
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The mugshot of Laura Belle Devlin, who murdered and dismembered her 75-year-old husband with a hacksaw, throwing some of him in the wood stove and the rest in their backyard. Newark, Ohio. 1947.Bettmann/Getty Images/Color by Ryan Stennes
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Black sharecroppers in Arkansas. 1935.Ben Shahn/Library of Congress/Color by Ryan Stennes
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Some of the men of the 369th infantry regiment from New York, a World War I unit made up of black soldiers and commonly referred to as the "Harlem Hellfighters."Wikimedia Commons/Color by Matt Loughrey
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Booker T. Washington sitting at his desk while writing. Date unspecified.Library of Congress
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The body of mobster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, who was killed by an unknown assailant who shot him through a window with an M1 Carbine while he was staying at an associate's house in Beverly Hills. 1947.Bettmann/Getty Images
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Chief John Smith, also called Kahbe Nagwi Wens -- which, when translated to English, means "Wrinkle Meat" -- was a Native from the Chippewa tribe in Cass Lake, Minnesota. Contested reports claimed that he lived to be 137 before dying in 1922.Wikimedia Commons/Color by Matt Loughrey
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An overhead photograph of World War II's D-Day landings in Normandy, France. 1944.Royston Leonard/Media Drum World
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Inside the Table Bluff Hotel and Saloon in Humboldt County, California. 1889.Wikimedia Commons/Color by Matt Loughrey
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Confederate dead lay fallen following the Battle of Antietam, which began in Sharpsburg, Maryland on Sept. 17, 1862.Alexander Gardner/Library of Congress/Color by Matt Loughrey
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The Golden Gate Bridge during its construction in the 1930s.Color by Dana Keller
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Suspected John F. Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before he himself would be killed by Jack Ruby on Nov. 24, 1963.PictureLux/The Hollywood Archive/Alamy Stock Photo
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"Lunch Atop a Skyscraper." Laborers take their lunch break on a steel beam atop the 70-story RCA building in Rockefeller Center, more than 800 feet above the street. Sept. 20, 1932.Bettmann/Getty Images/Color by Ryan Stennes
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The Brooklyn end of the Manhattan Bridge while still under construction. 1908.AP Photo/Eugene de Salignac/NYC Municipal Archives/Color by Jecinci
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Famous Apache leader Geronimo. Circa 1887.Wikimedia Commons/Color by Matt Laughrey
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Legendary scientists Charles Darwin, best known as the father of evolution. Date uncertain.Wikimedia Commons
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Siberian mystic Grigori Rasputin, who gained power in Russia before the 1917 revolution due to his association with the royal family. Circa 1910s.Wikimedia Commons/Color by Marina Amaral
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Market in New York City. Circa 1900.Library of Congress/Color by Sanna Dullaway
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Mugshot of David Bowie after being arrested for marijuana possession following a performance in Rochester, New York along with three other people — including fellow musician Iggy Pop. The charges were dropped, but Bowie never performed in Rochester again. 1976Public Domain
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New York's Central Park. 1933.Samuel H. Gottscho/Library of Congress/Color by Jecinci
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A crowd salutes the camera, holding up their drinks at a newly-opened bar just after the repeal of Prohibition. Location unspecified. 1933.Flickr/Color by Ryan Stennes
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The bodies of two would-be thieves named Robert Green and Jacob Jagendorf after a failed robbery attempt that ended when they accidentally fell down the building's elevator shaft. New York. 1915.Frederi Duriez/Media Drum World
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A family of migrant workers fleeing from the drought in Oklahoma camp by the roadside in Blythe, California. 1936.Dorothea Lange/Getty Images/Color by Ryan Stennes
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Irish Guards taking a rest between carrying duckboards, near Langemarck, 10 October 1917.Wikimedia Commons/Color by Cassowary Colorizations
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A boy selling newspapers in London containing reports on the Titanic disaster. Wikimedia Commons
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French soldiers on the battlefield during an offensive on the French fortress of Verdun during World War I. In total, more than 700,000 people were killed or injured on both the French and German sides during this battle, with casualties split almost evenly between them.Hulton Archive/Getty Images/Color by Matt Loughrey
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A pair of Civil War veterans exchange stories during the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1913.Library of Congress
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Connecticut newsboys on the job in 1909. Some of them had been newsboys for eight or nine years by the time this photo was taken.US National Archives
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Adolf Hitler salutes passing German soldiers during their campaign in Poland. April 2, 1940.German Federal Archive/Wikimedia Commons/Color by Ryan Stennes
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Shantytown dwellings sit in Central Park at the height of the Great Depression. 1933.Bettmann/Getty Images/Color by Ryan Stennes
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At 72nd Street and Broadway in New York, a horse-drawn fire engine races toward a blaze. Circa 1910.Bettmann/Getty Images/Color by Ryan Stennes
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Portraits of immigrants taken upon their arrival at Ellis Island, New York. Circa 1910s.Augustus Francis Sherman/New York Public Library/Color by Dynamichrome
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Mafia kingpin Joe Masseria holds the ace of spades, "the death card," in his hand following his murder on the orders of infamous gangster Charles "Lucky" Luciano in a Coney Island restaurant. Brooklyn. 1931.Bettmann/Getty Images
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Kids playing in the street join hands. West Harlem. 1946.Todd Webb Archive/Color by Ryan Stennes
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A young Wyatt Earp circa 1870, when he was just 21. Earp became famous as one of the toughest lawmen of the Wild West.Wikimedia Commons/Color by Matt Loughrey
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Lewis Powell, 21, in a cell onboard a U.S. Navy ship in Washington, D.C. after his arrest on April 17, 1865 for the attempted murder of Secretary of State William H. Seward during part of the larger plot responsible for the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.Alexander Gardner/Library of Congress/Color by Matt Loughrey
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Children in line for an Easter Sunday matinee. Chicago. April 1941.Corbis/Getty Images/Color by Ben Thomas
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Flood victims line up for Red Cross relief in Kentucky. 1937.Margaret Bourke-White/Color by Ryan Stennes
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Baseball great Lou Gehrig after finishing his "The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth" speech at Yankee Stadium on July 4th, 1939. Gehrig had just been diagnosed with ALS, causing him to retire from baseball before claiming his life two years later.Murray Becker/AP/Color by Dana Keller
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Malcolm X waiting for a press conference to begin on March 26, 1964.Wikimedia Commons
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An injured Japanese father and child in 1944 during World War II's Battle of Saipan. W. Eugene Smith/Life Magazine/Flickriver/Color by Colours of Yesterday/Facebook
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An unemployed man holds a sign voicing his frustrations during the Great Depression. Circa early 1930s.General Photographic Agency/Getty Images/Color by Ryan Stennes
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Renowned scientist Marie Sklodowka Curie in her laboratory in France. Date unspecified.Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
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American novelist Mark Twain in the last years of his life.Imgur
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Martin Luther King Jr. giving his famous "I have a dream" speech in Washington, D.C. 1963.National Archives
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A migrant worker traveling around America to pick peas sits with her children.
Nipomo, California. 1936.Dorothea Lange/Farm Security Administration/Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons/Color by Ryan Stennes
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Mulberry Street in Mahattan. Circa 1900.Detroit Publishing Co./Library of Congress/Color by Dynamichrome
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A laborer works on the frame of the Empire State Building. 1930.Lewis Hine via Wikimedia Commons/Color by Ryan Stennes
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A Nihang bodyguard serving in the ruler of Hyderabad's army in present-day India. Circa 1865.Sikh Culture Initiative/Color by Dynamichrome
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An old German woman walks through the smoking ruins of Berlin after the city was captured by the Red Army at the close of World War II. 1945.Sovfoto/UIG/Getty Images/Color by Ryan Stennes
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Mugshot of Pablo Escobar, the infamous drug lord responsible for most of the world's cocaine supply in the 1970s and 1980s. Medellín, Colombia. 1977.Wikimedia Commons
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Jackie Robinson. 1954.Bob Sandberg/Library of Congress/Color by Dana Keller
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Unemployed men gather outside a Chicago soup kitchen owned by gangster Al Capone. 1931.National Archives and Records Administration/Color by Ryan Stennes
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Soldiers playing football in no man’s land during The Christmas Truce, a series of unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front of World War I around Christmas 1914.Universal History Archive/UIG/Getty Images/Color by Matt Loughrey
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Kazimiera Mika, a 12-year-old Polish girl, mourns the death of her older sister Andzia, 14, who was killed in a field in Warsaw during a German air raid near the start of World War II. 1939.Julien Bryan/Wikimedia Commons/Color by Ryan Stennes
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Protestors in Little Rock, Arkansas demonstrate against school integration in 1959.U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection/Library of Congress/Color by Sanna Dullaway
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Confederate General Robert E. Lee after he surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, thus ending the Civil War on April 9, 1865. Library of Congress/Color by Matt Loughrey
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A picture of Portsmouth Square in San Francisco, California, 1851, during the Gold Rush. Library of Congress/Color by Matt Loughrey
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A World War II Soviet soldier stands guard behind a captured German soldier. February, 1943. Months after being encircled by the Soviets in Stalingrad, the remnants of the German Sixth Army surrendered, after fierce fighting and starvation had already claimed the lives of some 200,000.Deutsches Bundesarchiv/German Federal Archive/Color by Ryan Stennes
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A carnival barker tries to grab the attention of passersby at a fair in Klamath Falls, Oregon, in 1942.Russell Lee/The Library of Congress/Color by Colours of Yesterday/Facebook
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Two waiters serve two steel workers lunch on a girder high above New York City. 1930. The men were building the famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.Keystone/Getty Images
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Red Army soldiers raise the Soviet flag over the Reichstag during the Battle of Berlin at the close of World War II. May 2, 1945.Yevgeny Khaldei/Wikimedia Commons/Color by Ryan Stennes
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The Saint Valentine's Day Massacre in 1929. On Feb. 14, seven members of the North Side Gang were trapped in a garage, lined up against the wall, and shot to death by members of Al Capone's rival gang which was at war with the Irish North Siders for control of Chicago.Bettmann/Getty Images
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The inventor of the bulletproof vest tests one of the first prototypes in Washington, D.C. in 1923.Library of Congress
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A window washer at work on the Empire State Building poses during a brief break from his duties. March 24, 1936.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images/Color by Ryan Stennes
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An immigrant family on Ellis Island looks out across New York Harbor at the Statue of Liberty. Circa 1930s.FPG/Getty Images/Color by Ryan Stennes
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U.S. soldiers prepare for an amphibious landing during World War II's Operation Torch. Nov. 8, 1942. Wikimedia Commons/Color by Cassowary Colorizations
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Harlem. 1943.Gordon Parks/Library of Congress/Color by Ben Thomas
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The interior of a New York subway car including well-dressed female passengers and a uniformed male conductor. Circa 1910.Hulton Archive/Getty Images/Color by Ryan Stennes
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Poet Walt Whitman in 1868.Wikimedia Commons
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Whirling Horse, a member of the Sioux tribe performing with Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. Circa 1900.Gertrude Käsebier/National Museum of American History/Color by Matt Loughrey
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Aviation pioneer Wilbur Wright gliding in 1902, using a flying machine that just predated the one used to complete their historic first-ever controlled flight of a heavier-than-air craft in North Carolina in 1903.Smithsonian Institute/Color by Dynamichrome
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Wild West showman Buffalo Bill Cody in 1889.Denver Public Library/Color by Matt Loughrey
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U.S. Army Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman. Circa 1864-65.Wikimedia Commons/Color by Matt Loughrey
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Visitors attend a fair in Klamath Falls, Oregon. 1942.Russell Lee/The Library of Congress/Color by Colours of Yesterday/Facebook
99 Stunning Colorized Photos That Breathe New Life Into The Past
Since the very first photographers started taking pictures in the 1820s, there have been people who colorized photos. The technology used to make colorized black-and-white photos has changed radically over the nearly two centuries since, but our desire to see an image of the world as it truly looks remains the same.
From the earliest hand-tinted photographs to the modern era of digitally colorized old photos, the work that goes into the colorization process has always been considerable. In fact, modern colorists don't necessarily have an easier time of it than those who were working 100 years ago. See the fruits of their labor in the gallery of colorized black-and-white photos above and discover more about their process below.
Bringing History To Life With Colorized Black-And-White Photos In The Modern Era
Library of Congress/Color by Matt LougheryA partially-colorized photo of African-American Union soldiers at Dutch Gap, Virginia during the Civil War in November 1864.
As scores of old black-and-white or sepia-toned photos have found new audiences online in recent years, there has been increased interest in taking these images and breathing new life into them through colorization. A new generation of colorists is carrying out this work and utilizing modern processes that weren't available in decades past.
Jordan Lloyd, for one, ranks among the more well-known people who've used these modern processes to colorize photos (see his work and that of the colorists mentioned below in the gallery above) — though he suggested that today's techniques don't always measure up to the old ways:
"Whether or not it's a photomechanical process or literally painting on top of the original, it could very well be considered an art back in those days, by highly skilled artisans. These days, I'm not so sure. I certainly don't consider myself an artist or even a colorist. I now use the term visual historian, because it's a more reflective term to describe my day-to-day job."
However, as colorist Matt Loughrey said, the emergence of digital technology means that colorized photos have entered a totally different era: "The single difference [between newer techniques and older ones] is that we are in a digital age and with that comes a great efficiency that could never exist in terms of hand-tinting or coloring."
Furthermore, these new techniques have changed the field of photo colorization by opening it up to newcomers like never before. In the words of Joel Bellviure of Cassowary Colorizations, "Nowadays, specialized software has 'democratized' photo editing, which means more and more people can contribute techniques and bring together a common historical landmark."
The Original Artistry Of Making Colorized Photos
Former Master Colorist for Whites Aviation, Grace Rawson, discusses the process of hand-tinting photos in the 1950s.
Long before modern techniques democratized the field, colorized photos were initially made by painters who painstakingly hand-tinted each image. Individual prints were often directly colored by an artist, making each a distinct item.
The cost, in terms of time and money, was high enough that colorization was largely reserved for commerce. If the colorized image could be sold or used in an advertisement geared toward selling something else, it'd be more likely to get colorized in the first place. But colorizations outside of commerce were few and far between.
"The high cost and specialization of the job meant hand-colored pictures were used for commercial purposes and rarely used to be spread as historical illustrations," said Bellviure. "Pictures were rather re-painted and idealized in order to publish them in history books and magazines... Many postcards were watercolored individually and then reproduced in large quantities."
However, some colorizations continued to be made individually. Grace Rawson, a Master Colorist who was employed by Whites Aviation aerial photography firm in New Zealand in the 1950s, said that "every single Whites Aviation photograph is an individual, hand-colored original. They were not prints, and that made them very special."
Grace Rawson/LoadingDocs/VimeoA hand-painted colorization by colorist Grace Rawson.
But as color photography became more ubiquitous after World War II, demand for colorized black-and-white photos for commercial purposes quickly waned and the lower cost of color film made the expense of a hand colorist impractical. Ultimately, however, the field of colorization found a new path and new techniques to match.
The Changing Purpose Of Colorized Black-And-White Photos
The work of the modern colorist isn't any less painstaking than the delicate work of earlier artists like Grace Rawson, even with all the computer software in the world. For one, many digital colorists still use a "brush" much like those who came before.
As Loughrey said, "For my own process, I needed an intuitive workflow, particularly in terms of hardware, and the solution to this was to move from mouse and desktop to the digital pen and tablet system." It's decades later and some colorists have returned to a method that, digital underpinnings aside, looks much like what artists were doing long ago.
National Archives/Color by Dana KellerWomen delivering ice in 1918.
And in a world awash in color photography, what kinds of images do colorists use these new methods like the pen and tablet to work on? The answer, of course, is historical black-and-white photographs from before the advent of color film. This rerouting of colorists' efforts away from commerce and advertising and toward historical recreation and archival research has drastically changed the nature of their work.
Earlier colorists may have been asked to colorize images featuring subjects that they themselves were familiar with. Rawson herself was able to go to the sites in New Zealand that were photographed by Whites Aviation photographers and study the colors personally. Others may have been present in a portrait studio when a photo was taken so they knew what colors to add to a black-and-white print.
Flickr/Color by Cassowary ColorizationsA British officer and his dog at the Wavans War Cemetery in Pas de Calais, France in 1918.
But, today, how do you color a photo from a hundred years ago when the subjects in the photo may be dead, demolished, or otherwise gone forever?
Computer technology can help in some regards, Loughrey said. "I use proprietary software that understands the relationship between monochromatic shades and their corresponding hues of red, green and blue. The results of running the software present a logical palette to work with that's specific to textiles and tonality of flesh."
It's also important to try to somehow "see" the thing one is trying to colorize. "If I can't find the exact thing," Lloyd said, "then I should try and find a thing in the same group: a brand, a region, a manufacturer and so on. Failing that, something in the same era or type."
New York Public Library/Color by Jordan LloydA Romanian immigrant at Ellis Island, New York, circa early 1900s.
"It is in equal parts archive hunting, digital repairing, and restoration," said Lloyd, "sometimes digital reconstruction and a whole lot of historical research, on top of the bit where one spends hours masking and filling in the color."
"Color is certainly the result," said Lloyd, "but it does little to convey the often time-consuming and occasionally frustrating process it takes to arrive at that point."
A portrait of a young Jesse James.
Indeed, digging into the history of these photographs is obviously necessary, and can be a mixed bag for the colorist. On the one hand, exploring the unique history behind the subject of a photograph can be an exhilarating experience. As Lloyd said, "It's my job to tease something out and turn it into a story people will find interesting."
On the other hand, however, sometimes the most important works are the most emotionally difficult.
"The hardest colorizations I attempted were those I published in a series of colorized photographs on the Holocaust," said Bellviure. "Meant to raise awareness of Holocaust denial, the pictures' graphic and heartbreaking honesty made it extremely hard to work on them."
Should We Create Colorized Photos At All?
J. Malcolm Greany/Wikimedia Commons/Color by Ben ThomasNature photographer Ansel Adams.
There have been some critics of colorized black-and-white photos who've argued that they distort history by reinterpreting a historical document and presenting it in such a way that confuses a colorized photo for a color one, an important distinction.
In a 2014 piece in Gizmodo, writer Matt Novak asked several important questions: "[W]hat happens if [the] colorized version becomes more popular than the black-and-white version? Should we care? Does it matter at all to history?"
As Novak also noted, some photographers might have had the option to use color photography but made conscious decisions not to do so. Wouldn't that make colorizing their work inappropriate? If the photographer chose black and white for artistic reasons, wouldn't colorizing the image be a form of vandalism?
New York Public Library/Flickr/Color by Ryan StennesA partially colorized photo of Manhattan's Lower East Side in 1936.
However, in a 2014 interview with Novak, colorist Dana Keller said that this latest generation of artists "approach colorizing with a real reverence towards history, using their skills to eliminate the distraction of the "colorization," ultimately bringing these scenes to life with a natural realism that hopefully connects the viewer to the past in a new way."
"Equally as important," Keller added, "there is a great effort in preserving historical authenticity as well, with a lot of painstaking research in order to provide as accurate a depiction as possible."
Sometimes, perhaps, the way to most accurately bring the past to life is to overwrite the historical record that never got it all that correct in the first place. As Lloyd said, "Recorded history is also a history of the technology that makes the record in the first place."