This blog is more or less a companion site to the Arliss Archives, which is a celebration of actor, author, playwright and film maker George Arliss (1868-1946). As the Arliss site evolved, I found that adding digital color to original black & white photographs sometimes produced startlingly good results. More importantly, the “cinemagraphic painting process” as I call it, brought a contemporary quality to these visions of long ago. Some black and white photos were obviously designed to exploit the beauty of light and shadows and those works I have preserved in their original greytones as the photographer intended.
Purists may contest this point, but the fact is that most studio photographs from old Hollywood used black and white film in a utilitarian manner because color film was either too expensive or unavailable. The studios themselves routinely converted B&W photos into color posters, lobby cards, and even colorized glass slides projected onto movie screens. So historically there is a long tradition of adding color to these images and we lose nothing by using 21st century processing techniques to render these wonderful vintage photographs into the spectrum. Instead, we gain an insight into that Golden Age to see the world just as the people who lived back then saw it. For example…..
Turning this photo into color involves a number of judgment calls. Not only the choice of colors to apply, but their shade and intensity. Another judgment call: what not to color, which can be as important as deciding what to color. The point is this: if we were standing next to the camera, which of these two photos comes closer to what we would have seen?
Another favorite – John Barrymore. This portrait from his first talkie, GENERAL CRACK (1930), is carefully composed after the style of late 18th century paintings. The most obvious difference is that this photo is black and white:
At any rate, this explains the rationale behind this site. Of course, we will be including original color material as well as our digital creations. If you’d like to see more, then please subscribe at the link on the right column here. Our first post is planned for launch in late July as an anniversary tribute to the legendary Rudolph Valentino so please don’t miss it. Thanks.