These days we are overwhelmed with options for adding color to black-and-white photos. Smartphone apps, artificial intelligence, and Photoshop knockoffs are accessible to amateurs and hobbyists, and YouTube is a constantly replenishing source of step-by-step tutorials. And yet, if you’ve tried colorization, you’ve likely discovered the finished result looks like highlighters scrubbed over an old newspaper.
Doing the job well remains a craft. Marina Amaral is a professional colorist. Her job isn’t simply to add color, but to communicate an image’s history. The Brazilian artist puts hours of research into her colorizations, contacting historians to get their expert opinions on the original colors of the subject material. Her projects often reflect significant historical moments like the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, or the self-immolation of Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk Thích Quang Duc in 1963, bringing a sense of modernity and immediacy to familiar images.
Amaral was studying International Relations in college when she was introduced to colorization through a history forum. A year and a half ago, she began to create her own. Gradually the projects became a bigger part of her life, so she left school to dedicate herself full-time to her craft. She now spends her days doing commission requests (the most common being family photos and portraits, as one might guess) and working on bigger projects, like a partnership with a Swedish museum in the restoration of photos of locomotives.
“I wake up at 7am, grab a cup of coffee, and work nonstop until 10 or 11pm,” Amaral told us. “At the end of the day I’m exhausted, but also very, very glad for this opportunity to work doing something I love to do. On weekends I spend at least 3 hours a day practicing new techniques.”
Her practice involves developing new ways to make an image look as realistic as possible. Amaral studies traditional painting techniques and observes photographs to understand how light interacts with specific materials like skin, metal, wood, and grass. Her goal is to end up with a finished product in which you can’t tell the original photo was once black and white.
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1 Titanic Orphans, Brothers Michel And Edmond Navratil, 1912. They Were The Only Children To Be Rescued From The Titanic Without A Parent Or Guardian
2 Young Kenyan Woman Holding A Dik-Dik, Mombasa, 1909
3 Dick Winters And His Easy Company (Hbo's Band Of Brothers) Lounging At Eagle's Nest, Hitler's Former Residence In The Bavarian Alps, 1945
4 Grand Duchesses Tatiana And Olga Romanov
5 A Photographer Uses His Own Backdrop To Mask Poland's World War II Ruins While Shooting A Portrait In Warsaw In November 1946
6 Marie Sklodowska Curie
7 Four Female Pilots Leaving Their Ship, Pistol Packin' Mama, At The Four Engine School At Lockbourne AAF, 1944
8 Coronation Of Queen Elizabeth II. 2 June, 1953
9 Italian Immigrants Arrive At Ellis Island, 1905
10 Einstein And Chaplin