Such is the mystique of old black-and-white stills and films, I have had little interest in seeing their colourised equivalents, even if they promised to be faithful to the original colours of the pictured scene. But my attitude took a U-turn recently when I had a collection of faded photos of my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents digitally restored – and a handful colourised as an experiment.
Not only were the images of my grandparents brought to vibrant life and given a nowness that took me entirely by surprise, but previously unnoticed details emerged from the grey-scale shadows: a pet dog at the bottom of one shot, an army tent in the background of another, a little boy standing in a doorway.
After being transfixed by the recent documentaries America in Color and Australia in Colour, which have used digital technology to colourise archival footage from the 19th and 20th centuries, I’m now a convert. Our forebears, after all, didn’t see the world in monochrome: in flesh-and-blood colour, they’re no longer remote to 21st-century eyes.