Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Our Colorful Past…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 23, 2010

Many years ago, when our youngest daughter was probably around five or so, she asked us if the world had color when we were children. We chuckled and explained to her that the world had always had color, but it was merely the photographs and movies we had back then that were in black & white.

We laughed. We knew it was a cute story we knew we’d drag out in later years to embarrass her.

What I didn’t realize until a few days ago was that I subconsciously believed her.

Then I saw these photographs taken from Russia and neighboring regions one hundred years ago:

Russia In Color A Century Ago

I was floored. I realized that, in my imagination, I’ve always pictured that era as being drab and colorless. Consciously I knew better, but my mental image was apparently driven by all those black & white images.

While harmless enough, I guess my take-away is how, in spite of our best intentions and conscious rejection, our mental images and models of things are still colored (or not) by the media to which we are exposed. In my opinion, that’s one more reason to fight to maintain freedom of speech and media in general (including video games) – so we don’t end up viewing the world through a single, inaccurate lens.

But mostly, I thought those were just amazingly cool photos of life a century ago in a beautiful part of the world.

Filed Under: General - Comments: 8 Comments to Read

  • Calibrator said,

    Many thanks for this post!
    I remember the photos of Prokudin-Gorskii being a small sensation in 2003. I knew the date because that’s when I saved them to my hard drive. 😉
    The website still exists and is quite informative, BTW:

    Interestingly, he combined three photos with red, green and blue filters to get a color image and used the very same filters to project them. Funnily, I used a similar method to scan photos with my Amiga twenty years ago: It involved a slow parallel port interface, an analog B/W surveillance camera and a color wheel. Even today color wheels are still being used, for example in digital projectors…

    Apart from that I share the same sentiment about a “black & white past”. Not because of family photos but because of old movies like ‘Casablanca’ and ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ and of course the ubiquitous WW2 documentaries I saw as a kid.
    When I first saw a WW2 documentary in full color and with good picture quality I was surprised how big the difference was: Suddenly I could recognize *new* stuff, *fresh* paint etc. Kinda like seeing an old western in b&w and then visiting a western town for tourists: Bizarre!

  • Milkman Dan said,

    Here is a color film of London from 1927. Before the German bombing from WWII, of course.


  • Ysharros said,

    Wow – those are amazing photos. And yes, though I do *know* rationally that the world a) existed before I was born and b) wasn’t in b&w 100 years ago, it’s odd to actually see it in glorious technicolour.

  • Mattias Gustavsson said,

    Your post reminded me of one of my favourite Calvin and Hobbes strips 😀

  • Robyrt said,

    What strikes me is that these are really high quality photos. I always expected photos circa 1910 to have a grainy, washed-out look to them, like old film.

  • Tom said,

    Cool! Here’s some Library of Congress pictures from the 1930’s that are posted on Flickr. Seeing them made my grandparents’ lives a lot more vivid for me. And I often use them for inspiration in graphic design because the combinations of colors are so different.


  • sascha said,

    It’s interesting how BW photos and film can change the way how we imagine the world! Back at school we had to watch many films about WWII in history class and the BW images always gave those scenes a very depressing mood. Recently I watched a documentation on TV where they perfectly colored some WWII footage and it all looked so much more modern, almost as if it was just from the 60s/70s.

  • Tesh said,

    That’s really cool. Thanks for sharing! Makes me want to go out and take some more pictures of our local national parks.

    I’m also curious as to what people of 2110 will think of our rudimentary efforts at 3D and high dynamic range photography.