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Photos - Misc
Colour photos from the 30's and 40's? (karma: 2)
By Scarletmember has saluted, click to view salute photos Comments: 952, member since Fri Apr 11, 2008
On Sat Mar 14, 2009 06:03 AM

Just earlier today I stumbled across a site showing a number of photographs taken in the 1930's and 40's. The striking thing about these that made them stand out from other photographs from the period was that they are in colour:

Image hotlink - ''

On the site these are displayed (LINK) there is some conjecture regarding whether these have been colourised using Photoshop or something similar. Apparently they haven't been colourised, they were shot using Kodachrome.

Take a look at the above link, what do you reckon?


5 Replies to Colour photos from the 30's and 40's?

re: Colour photos from the 30's and 40's?
By Allymember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 3199, member since Sun Dec 11, 2005
On Sat Mar 14, 2009 11:03 AM
They look super fake to me.

Someone must have spent like a year in photoshop doing all that
re: Colour photos from the 30's and 40's? (karma: 1)
By Chaconnemember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 6359, member since Thu Jul 12, 2007
On Sat Mar 14, 2009 12:20 PM
^No I don't think they are fakes. Kodachrome was invented in the late 1930's by two musicians, one the son of famed pianist Leopold Godowsky, the other tied to the family which founded the Mannes School of Music in NYC.

Later color negative film was invented. There is one of two photos of my parents taken with color negative film in the early 1940's. There would have been a lot more color photography had not WW II inhibited it's development. The German's apparently also invented a process for there are a few photographs of personages such as Hitler and other Nazi VIP's in color from the early 40's. There are also some war footage taken with true color film vice colorized.

There were a number of documentary photographers such as Walker Evans who took photographs of American underclass people such as African Americans or the family shown. Obviously those people likely never owned a camera of any sort much less one using color film. Color film was still so prohibitively expensive that most people in the 1950's except for camera hobbyists still used black and white film and most who shot color used Kodachrome. I shot some color in the late 50s when I got my first adjustable camera. Kodachrome has amazing stability, and properly stored, photos shot in the very late 30s still look good. Color prints of the era are susceptible to fading, though I have managed to salvage many using photoshop clones. The thing which fade most is the cyan dye and you can add cyan to scanned versions of these prints and color correct them. I suspect I could also restore colors in the family shot and get rid of some of the yellow (by adding blue.) Other films are less stable. I shot some photos in high school on high speed (for then) color slide film made by Ansco and they sadly are beyond salvage. I shot a fair amount of Ektachrome, because you can develop that yourself. (Ektachrome is a complicated film with a rather simple development process, quite practical for the amateur at home. I used to do these processes. Kodachrome is a simple film with such a complicated processing that only Kodak or licensed commercial prosessors could develop it. Kodak didn't even offer chemistry for home development of Kodachrome. Color negative film is easy to develop and at one time I did a lot of it (no more.)

These are interesting shots and remind me of Walker Evans photography some of it done for the Works Projects Administration and other "New Deal" arts projects, an economic stimulus of the time to employ artists and authors. My high school, for example, had a big mural painted by Jackson Pollock, long before he had developed the "drip art" school for which he became famous. [That painting is lost now, though I had seen it. A couple of years ago when the auditorium of my old school was restored to its original configuration, they replicated the old Pollack mural from photographs. It was an Abraham Lincoln related mural as our high school was called Lincoln High School.

I used to read a lot on photo history back when I was learning all these processes. There were earlier color processes, some used by early National Geographic Magazines, but these required the taking of three separate photographs and merging the subtractive colors, much like is done with offset printing. Kodachrome was the first practical film with something real one shot photo taking even if the film was VERY slow by today's standard (it was equivalant of ISO 5 or 10.) Even Kodachrome of the 50's was slow with a film speed of ISO 25 (which is why I used Ektachrome which was ISO 64 and later much higher.)

Oh, I used to teach this stuff.

re: Colour photos from the 30's and 40's?
By Chaconnemember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 6359, member since Thu Jul 12, 2007
On Sat Mar 14, 2009 01:08 PM
Edited by Chaconne (182529) on 2009-03-14 13:10:46
^Well I was close. These are the famous Farm Security Adminstration series which are very well known to photo historians. They are indeed genuine and they are Kodachromes. The FSA was among the first big users of Kodachrome and among the early users of 35mm cameras, though not exclusively. Small problem at the time, the earliest 35mm cameras were made in Germany (Leicas, Exactas et al.) and Germany was our enemy at that time, so any of these cameras had to have been obtained before the war. Camera making has never been a particularly strong American enterprise. The photographers cited are all quite famous; Delano, Vachon and particularly Arthur Rothstein are extremely well known pro photographers and the FSA documentaries are considered to be one of the best documents of life in that era, plus many of the photos have particularly strong artistic interest. These men (and a few women) basically defined the photo essay along with the staff of LIFE magazine which also started about the same time in 1936.

They did indeed come from earlier New Deal initiatives, the most famous of which was "Let Us Praise Famous Men" in which author James Agee, also a famous poet ("Knoxville, Summer of 1915) and a film critic/ screenwriter and photographer Walker Evans documented the lives of three sharecropper families in Alabama. This work was at the commission of the Farm Resettlement Administration, one of the first agencies to deal with rural poverty in general and the "Dust Bowl" tragedy in particular. That work was published in 1936 and won a Pulitzer Prize. The FRA was replaced by the FSA and Walker Evans influenced Roy Stryker who headed the photo project for the Farm Service Administration and who employed the photographers and gave out the assignment for the collection Scarlet has linked us to. These photos are all in the Library of Congress in Washington and from time to time, the Library has public exhibits of them at the Library (as a Washingtonian, I've seen a couple of these exhibits, but none of the photos shown.) The technical details of these projects have been written about frequently in many photography magazine stories over many years. I first saw them in the late 50's when I first got interested in serious photography as a teen, long before I became a pro photographer and teacher of photography. [I gave up both of those endeavors in 1992 when my real job demanded more of my time.] These essays also influenced Edward Steichen (a fashion photgrapher who during the war headed the Navy's combat photographers.) Steichen later, in the 50's put together the most famous essay/exhibition of photography called the "Family of Man." The book on "Family of Man" is still in print.

re: Colour photos from the 30's and 40's?
By Chaconnemember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 6359, member since Thu Jul 12, 2007
On Sun Mar 15, 2009 06:51 AM

As can be seen here it is possible to do color correction to some of these old photographs to counter the effects of aging.

I used Paint Shop Pro X2 and added blue to counter the effect of the yellowing.

re: Colour photos from the 30's and 40's?
By pinktutu Comments: 571, member since Thu Apr 24, 2003
On Sun Mar 29, 2009 08:19 PM
Thanks for sharing these. I was just looking at colored photos from WW2 taken in Germany. The coloring is a little diffrent since they had their own process but it's so amazing to see. At first when I saw the German photos I didnt believe they were really but they my brother explained that in some ways photos from that time period are of better quality then photos now because they used real film with high quality glass lenses.