Colorizing an Old Historical Photograph: J. Gresham Machen and the 1931 Faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary

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The Telegraph recently profiled the work of digital artist Marina Amaral.

Amaral is a 22-year-old Brazilian artist whose digital colourisations of iconic black-and-white images have become an internet sensation. Her work breathes new life into old pictures, stripping away the years and giving them an astonishing immediacy. . . .

Amaral, who lives in the city of Belo Horizonte, taught herself how to use Photoshop when she was 12 by watching tutorials on YouTube and experimenting.

For years it was simply a hobby, but in 2015 she came across some colourised photographs of the Second World War on the internet and felt she could create something similar.

She has now completed more than 300 pictures, including private work such as old wedding photographs and family portraits, and has left college, where she was studying international relations, to devote herself full-time to her work.

You can see samples of her work here.

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I asked Marina if she would colorize this old faculty photo from Westminster Theological Seminary, answer a few questions about her process, and then tell us how individuals and organizations could hire her to do work for them.

WTSPhotos_Box1_StudentLifeChestnutHill_WestminsterFaculty1930s001

Before we see what she did with it, let’s look at who is in the photograph and when it was taken.

These seven men were the faculty members of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia in 1931.

I don’t know what month the photograph was taken—most likely in May (at the end of the 1930–1931 academic year) or September (at the beginning of the 1931–1932 academic year). I am going to assume the former for purposes of calculating their ages.

From left to right, the professors in the front row are:

  • Ned Stonehouse (age 29), New Testament
  • Oswald T. Allis (age 51), Old Testament
  • J. Gresham Machen (age 51), New Testament
  • Paul Woolley (age 29), Church History
  • Cornelius Van Til (age 36), Apologetics

Standing behind them, from left to right, are:

  • John Murray (age 32), New Testament
  • Allan MacRae (age 29), Old Testament

One of the striking things is the relative youth of the faculty: take away Allis and Machen (both 51 years old), and the other five are either in their late-20s or mid-30s.

Machen, who had largely organized the founding faculty in 1929, would only live another five years, dying on New Year’s Day of 1937.

All of the men were at Westminster from the beginning (some as professors, others as instructors). R. B. Kuiper was part of the original faculty, but during the 1931 photo above he was serving as president of Calvin College. He would return to Westminster in 1933. Also not included here was Robert Dick Wilson, who died in the fall of 1930.

Of the professors pictured above, Paul Wooley had the greatest longevity at the school, serving as professor of church history until 1977.

So with that as background, here is Marina Amaral’s work on the photograph:

WTSPhotos_Box1_StudentLifeChestnutHill_WestminsterFaculty1930s001 Finished (3)

She kindly answered a few questions as well:

1. Can you tell us a bit about the technological process you use? Is any of it automated? How long does it take?

Well, the process is very time-consuming and more complex than it looks. Everything is done manually; each pixel is colored by hand. Photoshop only offers me the workspace and nothing else. The time depends on the complexity of each photograph, so it varies a lot. A simple portrait can be done within an hour or so, but a large photograph can take me hours or even days because I need to go slowly building up the colors on tiny details.

2. What role does research play in your work? Do you sometimes consult with historians and other experts?

Yes, definitely! Historical accuracy is the most important thing for me. These are historical photographs; they are portraying events that actually happen. It’s not my job to make it look the way I want to look. I need to be respectful and as faithful to the original colors as I can. So each photograph goes through a long and deep process of research before I begin to work on the colorization itself. Sometimes I need to use random colors, but only when it’s strictly necessary and on minor details.

3. What effect do you think your work has in helping history come alive for people today?

I believe this is helping to increase the interest of young people in history, especially in classrooms. I’m very proud of it.

4. If someone wanted to hire you to repair or colorize an old photo, how do they go about commissioning work from you?

They can reach me via email [email protected] or access my website, www.marinamaral.com.

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