Colorization of old images is a topic of discussion among historians, photographers, and retouchers. Some love it, some hate it, but it seems to me that no person is indifferent about it.
If you ask me, I love colorized photos when they’re done with great skill and historic accuracy. And Tom Marshall of PhotograFix (previously) certainly has it both. The topic of his latest project is the street life of 19th century London – a set of photos taken in the mid-1870s. Tom carefully colorized them, giving them a new dimension and making them look as if scenes from Charles Dickens novels came to life.
The photos are a work of Scottish photographer John Thomson, who captured “the daily toil and struggle of the ‘street folks’ of London,” as Tom explains. He worked with the radical journalist Adolphe Smith to make a monthly magazine “Street Life in London” which was issued from 1876 to 1877. According to Tom, these photos are what laid the foundations for modern photojournalism.
The people you see in these photos are “the poorest of the poor” of Victorian-era London. Smith didn’t only photograph them but also interview them. In 1878, Thomson and Smith published a book from which Tom took the photos he colorized. In the book, there were Thomson’s photos along with the interviews, written in a language that is different from today. It’s not politically correct, and there are some expressions that are now long forgotten.
“I believe that colourised photos can allow a modern audience to engage better with the subject, especially in an age where we see thousands of images on a news feed every day,” Tom says. I absolutely agree. While I love the original historic photos, their colorized versions always give me a new perspective and make me feel even more connected to the subjects. And I’d say that Tom agrees with me in this regard:
“Colour brings out hidden details in these old photos, which are often lost in black and white, and it causes the viewer to pause and look. This is not to say that the original old photos are not fascinating in their own right, but I believe that the addition of colour and some photo restoration helps to enhance the Victorian England scenes and forces the viewer to spend more time looking into it and reading the accompanying caption.”
Editor’s note: all the captions accompanying the photos come directly from Adolphe Smith, the 19th-century journalist working with John Thomson in creating the “Street Life in London.” They are unaltered, so the language can be outdated and some of you may find some of the terms offensive.