Tim Aldiss writes for Spectrum Photographic – professional photographic & giclée printing.

The earliest photographic plates were black and white, the image sometimes poorly defined. People posed in a way not dissimilar to how they would if an artist were painting their portrait: expressions were fixed, people often stood or sat unnaturally, in lifeless, static scenes (they had to in order to avoid blurring during long exposure). Indeed, it was a macabre custom in the Victorian age to photograph dead relatives arranged with living members of the family as a permanent keepsake; sometimes the deceased would stand there with the aid of a contraption, eyes open! Furthermore, a popular fad of the time went so far as to supposedly capture ‘extras’. These were images, not necessarily very clear, that would appear on the processed plate in addition to whatever was photographed initially; they were construed to be the spirits of dead relatives and loved ones. There was a market for all these types of photographs, notwithstanding for the more joyful occasions, among the middle and upper classes. Nonetheless, photographing people tended to be a staged, rather stiff, affair.

Bringing The Past To Life With Colourisation
There were other photographers, however, who were willing to use the camera as an instrument to bring the more work-a-day images of society to a greater audience. Lewis Hine, an American sociologist, devoted much of his life to capturing the troubling working conditions of children, with a series of fascinating photographs taken over a hundred years ago, that really brought home the grittier side of both rural and industrialised America; some of which have been skilfully colorized by freelance photo editor Sanna Dullaway and recently featured in TIME. The pictures are haunting for a very different reason to the photographs mentioned earlier: the children can be seen as they work, barefoot, in cotton mills, in fields or in collieries—their faces blackened by coal dust. Some are pictured smoking pipes and cigarettes between shifts, looking cheeky and roguish. Most appear unexcitable and stare dolefully into the camera—too grown up for their years. There is realism in the black and white originals of poor working life that is lacking in the photography of bourgeois life from the same era, which, by comparison, appears cold and stern. But there is an even sharper reality in the colorized rendering of these selected photographs, which brings a truly movie-like quality to the scenes. It is very difficult to simply glance over the extraordinarily vivid faces and their expressions, or the clothing, the boots (or lack of), the buildings with flaking paint, the factory machinery, the light bulbs on long flex hanging overhead, the shop windows or the wisps of cotton growing in the fields; and some of the urban pictures could so easily be stills from the set of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, it is uncanny…