The other day I came across this site called Colorized History. The site contains newly colorized versions of historical photographs. The first thing that came to mind upon seeing the images was the sense that color made these historic figures come alive and seem more contemporary. The portrait of Charlie Chaplin at age 27 could be mistaken for a young hipster living in Greenpoint and photographed using an instagram app. Lincoln seems weary and wise. The role of color in this sense may make for an interesting post later.
What I also realized is that the negatives and, in Lincoln’s case, the Daguerrotype exist. Light that reflected off of their skin and hair and clothing was caught in silver and brought forth to the present day. This would seem to be an important facet of photography that seems to be ignored presently. As I said previously, with digital, the capturing of the light is just the beginning. All sorts of manipulation can go on that may not be detectable. And with the original file actually being 1’s and 0’s on some sort of electromagnetic media it would be hard to see something like that surviving 100 or 150 years from the present. Here at the University where I work there is a famous Daguerrotype of Edgar Allen Poe. Every time I see it (we have imaged it several times) I get the feeling that a tiny sliver of time, a trace of reality, was brought forth into the present.
In November the Museum of Modern Art will be showing Nicholas Nixon’s ongoing series of portraits of his wife and her sisters called, The Brown Sisters. Nicholas Nixon uses an 8 x 10 camera to take the portraits which he has been doing since 1974. These are beautiful slices of reality on silver gelatin. The whole project is a meditation on time and mortality. As Nicholas Nixon describes in the book published on the occasion of the exhibition, after taking the second photograph of the sisters in which he arranged them exactly as he did for the first on a whim, he asked the sisters if he could photograph them every year forever. Every year forever, what a romantic notion. I hope I live long enough to see the completion of the project which won’t exactly be forever. But I am sure the negatives will be brought hundreds of years into the future. A collection of little time machines telling of one family’s love and bonds.