We often lose the feeling of immediacy when looking at old photographs. Their black-and-white silver-based film somehow leaches not only the color out of the picture, but also the life. True, if you’re a historian you thrill to a good picture of a key individual, unit, piece of equipment or (especially) moment, and a lot of those old pictures were taken with very high quality cameras onto large glass or film negatives. But how sad it is they are not in color!
Enter Royston Colour (facebook link). This guy, presumably the eponymous Royston (Leonard), colorizes period photos and brings them to life, and his principal interest seems to be military history (although he’ll certainly do a period picture for the sheer art of it).
Here’s an example of one of those perfectly composes Speed Graphic images from the US national archives…
…and here’s what Royston has done with it. His OD Green is a little too green, but other than that, his color makes the image of a Korean frontline airfield come to life. Moreover, on his page, he recounts the fate of each of the F-86 Sabres in the foreground (archival information about US aircraft abounds).
Marines or soldiers on Guam, one of the last battles of the Pacific War, pass two knocked-out Japanese Type 95 Ha-Go tanks.
We know this picture came from Stalingrad. We even know this tough-looking German’s name (Hauptmann Friedrich Konrad Winkler), his provenance (a prewar volunteer, he was commissioned from the ranks, not unusual in the Wehrmacht) and fate (he was taken alive by the Soviets in February 1943, but like most who fell captive in the East, died in captivity). The Germans treated Russian prisoners, but not Americans or Englishmen, just as badly as the Russians treated theirs; war in the East was war beyond civilized norms. It might as well have been no quarter asked or given; both sides’ soldiers feared captivity more than death.
He’s using a Russian PPSh submachine gun (the Germans used them in 7.62mm and converted to 9mm) and his helmet cover is Red Army camouflage material. The picture was taken during the defense of the Barrikady factory complex in the north of Stalingrad, presumably by a German field camera unit; they and their pictures must have been captured by the Soviets.
Royston has quite a few Stalingrad pictures, and they’re reminiscent in the bleakness of their terrain and what they hint about the horror of the fight there, to his many pictures of World War I.
Finally, he also dabbles in restoration. Can this image, double-exposed and with a broken glass plate, be restored?
Here’s how Royston did:
That was a couple of weeks’ work. Still, somebody needs to hire this guy — the Imperial War Museum, perhaps. Meanwhile we can all enjoy his work at the site.