These Stunning Colorized Historic Photos Make the Past Feel Like the Present

These colorized photographs give new life to old black and white photos and bring history alive.

1. Dead Confederate Solider in Devil’s Den

Dead Confederate Soldier in Devil’s Den, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 1863. Timothy O’Sullivan, Library of Congress.
A Dead Confederate Soldier in Devil’s Den, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 1863. Colorized by Marina Amaral

The image of a dead Confederate Solider in Devil’s Den at the Gettysburg battlefield is iconic and has been reproduced in thousands of books and stories about the American Civil War. Immediately following battles, eyewitnesses stated that they saw photographers moving dead bodies to create more dramatic war-time images.

While this debate wages on, there is a stark difference between the original black and white image and the colorized one. What Amaral has been able to capture, that people who have visited Devil’s Den will notice, is the harsh landscape of the rocks and its isolation. The men who ultimately died in Devil’s Den did so alone, without comfort, and often with the battle raging around them.

2. William Tecumseh Sherman, 1864

General Sherman, 1864. Mathew Brady, Library of Congress
General William T. Sherman, 1864. Colorized by Marina Amaral

William T. Sherman remains a hated figure for many with pro-Confederate ideals. Sherman has come to symbolize the might of the Untied States of America as he scorched and burned large swaths of the South during his March to the Sea campaign that ended when he gave the captured city of Savannah, Georgia to President Lincoln as a Christmas present in 1864. The black and white portrait of Sherman shows him as distant. Examining the colorized version allows the viewer to see deeper into the man that was capable of commanding such harsh military tactics on civilians in Georgia and the Carolinas.

3. Cree Indian

Cree Indian, Maple Creek, Saskatchewan, Canada, 1903. Library and Archives of Canada
Cree Indian, Maple Creek Saskatchewan, 1903. Colorized by Marina Amaral

The vibrant colors displayed by Native Americans and First Peoples has sparked the imagination of many children. Color photography was not widely used until the late 20th century. With the ability to provide historically accurate colors to the 1903 image of a Cree Indian, Marina Amaral has placed the vibrant colors used by native people on display.

In many ways, adding color has removed the savage stereotype of First Peoples from this Cree man. By removing the sepia tones of the original image and replacing them with vibrant color viewers may develop a better understanding of the native world that Europeans almost completely destroyed.

4. Holocaust Survivors

Survivors waiting to be evacuated from the Wobbelin concentration camp to receive medical attention at a field hospital, Germany, May 4, 1945. US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Survivors from Wobbelin concentration camp. Colorized by Marina Amaral

Images from the Holocaust and the liberation of the concentration camps provided documentation of the horrific actions humans committed upon each other. The sunken facial features and the black and gray-stripped attire emphasize how the Nazis viewed ethnic people as nothing but criminals. The colorized image provides additional layers of depth to the heinous treatment for those forced into the concentration camps.

5. Hiroshima after Bombing, 1945

Hiroshima after bombing. US National Archives
Hiroshima after bombing, US National Archives. Colorized by Marina Amaral

When the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan at 8:15 am on August 6, 1945, it killed an estimated 70,000 people, which included 20,000 Japanese forces and 2,000 Korean slaves. In the aftermath of the bomb, injury caused by radiation increased the death toll up to 90,000 to 166,000. Within seconds of the bomb’s impact, over 70% of the buildings in Hiroshima were destroyed.

The original black and white photo provides a sense of the devastation. The colorized version by Marina Amaral provides a human view of the destruction. People are walking around the rubble and appear to be moving items onto handcart wagons. While this is the same scene, the colorized version makes it easier to see what is actually occurring in the image, giving life to a scene of destruction.

6. The Burning Monk

The Burning Monk. Photo Credit Malcolm Browne, June 11, 1963. Public Domain
The Burning Monk. Colorized by Marina Amaral

The self-immolation of Quang Duc, a Vietnamese Mayhayan Buddihist monk, occurred in a busy Saigon intersection on June 11, 1963. The photographer, Malcolm Browne, won a Pulitzer Prize for this image in 1964. Browne stated, “No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.” Marina Amaral’s meticulous colorizing of the image provides an added level of horror by offering a better understanding for the desperation of the monk. The orange hues of the gasoline-fed fire are engulfing the monk while the onlookers have not yet realized or noticed what has happened.