In recent years, there has been an explosion in the field of digital colourisation of photos. But why is so much effort being put into colourisation? Whether it is the clips from the World Wars that have been colourised as ‘World War II in Colour’ (available on Netflix) or personal family pictures that go through the colourisation process – why are we obsessed with turning black and white pictures into modern colourised equivalents? Is it perhaps a way for us to fill in the gaps that black and white photography left? Or, a way for history and past to seem more real, closer to our existence, perhaps even more human?
Jithin Majeed, a 22-year-old photographer from Kozhikode who recently colourised images from a part of Kerala’s history, puts some of these questions to rest by telling us more about the creative process, the inspiration behind the same, and why he decided to do it.
Please tell us about your project.
Photo and film colourisation have always been puzzling concepts to understand, even for people working in arts and media-related industries. A few years ago, I used to come across colourised material and found it difficult to wrap my head around how this was possible, especially motion pictures. When Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old (2018) came out, I had a sudden urge to learn colourisation myself. I tried to do it in 2018, but the iterations were poor and not convincing. It was not until recently, when Jason Antic and others came out with powerful colourisation AI, that it became more accessible and less intensive. I used Google’s Colab platform to run the code required to colourise a series of historical images from Kerala and Odisha for my first attempt. These were then processed through Adobe Photoshop to get the final image.
Why did you choose these specific images, was there a particular reason behind the choice?
I chose these subjects because I thought that other more prominent historical images would have already undergone colourisation and being a Malayali, I wanted to show something that was seemingly distant as innately relatable to our community. Sometimes, when you look at photos of when you were a child, you become unfamiliar with the person in the photo when it is, in fact, yourself. It’s the same with these images. They are a reflection of ourselves from an almost recognisable space and time but, with a few drops of colour, that gap of unfamiliarity is bridged to an extent.
Is there any particular reason you chose that specific time period in Kerala History?
My plan was to find photographs as far back as possible that had minimal artefacts or wear (I was not looking to restore or retouch anything) and most of them fell in this time period. Probably because a lot of foreigners were here documenting the everyday lives of South Indians during that time. But, I imagine, with a little bit more digging, one can find even older photographs that are relatively well preserved and fit for colourisation.
You have chosen people belonging to different communities, was that a conscious or an incidental choice?
I have had a couple of people ask me this. This was purely incidental. It just so happened that the images I shortlisted, unbeknownst to me, had a variety of communities involved. In fact, the research to find out who those people were was done after selecting the images. I did not know who I was colourising until the end. What they wore, their surroundings, posture, expressions, etc. were quite different from each other and showed a range, which I thought was interesting.
What would you consider as the inspiration behind your work?
I tend to draw inspiration from a wide range of sources and although I work as a cinematographer and editor, I am inspired by music as much as visual media, maybe even more. Anything that is backed by emotion or a story, I’m hooked!
What is your creative process like?
If anything, my work is meant to inflict feelings. How those feelings are defined is up to the viewer themselves but If I can spark an emotion, I have done my job. It’s about taking the tragic yet beautiful paradigm that is life and helping shift one’s perspective on it. When you spend an entire lifetime through only your point of view, it tricks you into a less broader sense of being. Few pursuits have the potential to change that, art is one of them.
You can checkout his Instagram here.
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