Rarely Seen Color Photos Of World War II That Truly Bring History To Life

Published May 1, 2017
Updated September 1, 2020

Rediscover the tragedy and heroism of D-Day, the Holocaust, and more with this arresting look at World War 2 in color.

World War 2 In Color D Day
Pearl Harbor Fires
Sitting Prisoner
Soldiers In Paris
Rarely Seen Color Photos Of World War II That Truly Bring History To Life
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"Black and white are the colors of photography," legendary photographer Robert Frank once said. "To me, they symbolize the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected."

It's easy to agree with Robert Frank's words — especially because they come from Robert Frank.

Still, it's hard to dismiss one of the strongest advantages that color photography holds over black-and-white: its immediacy.

"I work in colour sometimes," said Mary Ellen Mark, who sits not far from Frank in the pantheon of revered black-and-white photographers, "but I guess the images I most connect to, historically speaking, are in black and white. I see more in black and white – I like the abstraction of it."

Indeed, whereas black-and-white offers an invaluable sense of "abstraction" — a timeless way to tap into the human hope and despair that Frank posits as eternal — color offers a certain vital sense of the here-and-now.

In other words, black-and-white may be timeless, but is timeless always what we want?

This question becomes even more important when it comes to images that document history long gone by.

When someone alive today looks at photographs from World War 2, for example, the black-and-white may very well abstract the images from their original time and thus allow the modern viewer to better tap into the images' timeless, eternal sense of hope or despair.

But that same kind of abstraction can make an image inert — a moment becomes a museum piece, a thing of the past, something that happened to somebody else, something that has no bearing on our present.

But the historical events able to be preserved to an appreciable degree in color — and World War 2 was among the first — can come back to life for the present-day viewer in ways that they likely wouldn't in black-and-white.

Perhaps color reminds us, more so than black-and-white, that the subjects captured were real people just like us, and not merely beings of the past. Black-and-white may preserve the heart and soul, but perhaps color preserves the flesh and blood.

Experience World War 2 in color in the gallery above.

After this look at World War 2 in color, see more of the most powerful photos of World War 2 in both color and black-and-white. Then, discover the truth behind some of the most enduring World War 2 myths.

John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.
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Kuroski, John. "Rarely Seen Color Photos Of World War II That Truly Bring History To Life." AllThatsInteresting.com, May 1, 2017, https://allthatsinteresting.com/world-war-2-in-color. Accessed June 24, 2024.