…having seen mostly black-and-white pictures of the world pre-1960 or so (I’m not counting Technicolor movies), I begin to imagine the past unfolding in monochrome.
I almost always imagine the time before the 60s in black and white: The Titanic, the Victorians and the World Wars2. I too think that it comes from seeing so many black and white images from that period.
For some reason, including colour with a photo makes it feel much more real to me. It’s probably because I experience the world in colour, and so I find it much easier to place myself in such a photo and mentally interact with it. Perhaps it’s also because I particularly rely on colour for my vision and visual memory3. Or maybe I’m just a crazy son of a bitch, who knows?
I particularly remember watching a documentary called “Hitler in Colour“. It changed my perception of the second World War for the better, and helped my empathise with the victims – although it didn’t change my understanding of the facts. It helped those facts and figures turn into real people in my mind.
Now Flickr has a section for The Library of Congress which includes many colour photos from 50, 60, 70 years ago. I need not explain: just go and explore for a few minutes. There are other such collections in Flickr’s The Commons too, but I’ve not yet explored them. It’s a perfect example of the internet’s potential.
The image following is my favourite so far. It’s from 1944. You often see such scenes like it recreated in old black and white movies, but compared with this, I find myself unable to fully immerse myself in that world. But when I look at this image, it feels more real to me.
My point: colour in an image helps me to recreate that image in my head, which is what I do when I think about things.
Photos from The Library of Congress’ Flickr section.
- Maybe I should don a tinfoil hat. ↩
- Though, strangely, before the 1700s, everything – from the Tudors to the Egyptians – I imagine in colour. That adds evidence to my hypothesis that my imagination is prejudiced by the viewing of black and white photographs from the time. ↩
- Rather than, say, patterns. ↩