An Artist’s Interview with Rui Candeias
Why did you start to colorize black and white photos?
For many years I have been involved in several online communities dedicated to Historical research. About 10 years ago the first digitally colorized photos started showing up, and they had the gift of sparking discussion about whatever the photos depicted. This made me realize the potential that colorized photos had as a tool for learning, teaching and divulging history. So, one day I grabbed a photo of a Bf 109 I had always liked; decided to give it a try, and I haven’t stopped colorizing ever since.
How do you chose which photos to color?
I know that this sounds like a cliché, but they choose me. Often, I’m doing research for a work and I stumble upon another subject, or an unrelated story I connect with. I then look for a photo to illustrate that story. Other times I just feel drawn to a photo and I have to color it. The best part is that by not worrying about what I should do next, I am being constantly surprised.
Why the preference for photos of a military nature?
Mankind’s greatest leaps forward in technology, scientific knowledge, politics, ethics, etc, have mostly occurred during or as a result of armed conflict. The first half of the 20th Century in particular is second to none in terms of historical lessons, good and bad, that need to be passed on and never forgotten. There’s where I happen to find most of the stories I tell through my work.
What can you tell us about your process?
The act of digitally colorizing the photo itself is only the visible tip of the iceberg. The other 99% of the process involves a lot of ground work, research and experiment. Fortunately, during my years of work in science I’ve learned from some very gifted scientists how to do proper research. Finding references is easy, knowing which ones to use and how/where/when is the tricky part. Adaptability is also very important. Every photo is different and I believe a good colorizer has to be willing to adapt his techniques to the photo and not the opposite.
What are the most challenging photos to work with?
Anything prior to the appearance of modern b&w Panchromatic film. Before the 1920s b&w photos were developed using an Orthochromatic emulsion which is insensitive to red and yellows and over-sensitive to light/medium blues. That makes historical accuracy very difficult to be achieve. To give you an idea of the challenge, look at photos of the Red Baron’s aircraft or British red coats and you’ll notice that they show as black or dark grey. During WW2 both emulsions were used, so a keen eye for the tell-tail signs is a must.
Do you work alone?
No — and I wouldn’t advise it. I cannot stress enough how important it is and how grateful I am for the input and unselfish help I have had over the years from others. I couldn’t have reached the desired level of historical accuracy in many of my works without the help of collectors, professional researchers, museum curators, war veterans and many other amateur historians such as myself.
Are there photos you would not color?
Yes. I think there are black and white photos that are poignant enough in black and white and coloring them adds nothing to their value as historical documents. For that reason, I personally do not color photos depicting corpses. I also found out that I wasn’t able to color certain family photos, probably because they already mean so much to me in black and white that adding color to them feels pointless.
What is to you the future of digital photo colorization?
I believe that it is the next natural step as an auxiliary tool for the teaching of History. There has been an evolution in the use of illustrations in History books during the last century: From b&w drawings it moved to color drawings, and lately to digital artwork. In my opinion, the advantage of digital colorization is that, because it works with the photo itself, and through the use of proper methodologies, it can achieve a level of symbiosis with the photo, and thus of realism, that none of the other methods, or art forms, can. This doesn’t mean it will replace these other methods, but it can be most useful to complement them.
Do you see yourself as taking part in that future?
I hope so. Photo colorization has already given me access to a huge amount of knowledge and the opportunity to interact with many people who share my interest in History. I look forward to keep working with, and learning from all of them.