My Colorful Past – photo colorization project aims to bring history to life

My Colorful Past – photo colorization project aims to bring history to life
(Image credit: Richard Avedon / My Colorful Past)

My Colorful Past, an ambitious photo colorization project that has been recognized by National Geographic and is being featured in American schools, has launched a crowdfunding campaign to support its historical restoration work.

The man behind the operation, Matthew Loughrey from County Mayo in Ireland, has fielded colorization assignments as diverse as the Thomas Edison reels of William F Cody (aka Buffalo Bill) to deciphering the original colors of the Margate seafront.

“My Colorful Past started out in early 2015 as a means to bridge a gap between history and art using colorization. An engagement exercise for learning, both online and in person,” Loughrey tells us.

“It was fast recognized as an option for museums and libraries to enhance their own visitor experiences and this took the project to a completely different level. The goal is to educate through the repurposing of historical photography using colorization, animation and even 3D.”

After starting out with a slant towards American history such as NASA astronauts, Alcatraz prisoners and Civil War era photography, My Colorful Past’s work found fresh cultural appreciation on Loughrey’s home turf.

“I received a lot of enquiries about color work in relation to the centenary of the Easter Rising in 2016. I'd built relationships with picture desks abroad and now had the opportunity to do so here in Ireland; it was purely good timing that enabled this as My Colorful Past was already being spoken about and everything fell into place. The project's always gotten great support here around historical events and personalities.”

The launch of a campaign on GoFundMe, which has a very modest goal of €2,500, will not only help My Colorful Past’s ongoing restoration work, but will also help expand its remit in creating an education platform.

“Already my work is being demonstrated to history students at a private high school in Los Angeles by Keith Harris PhD. The initial feedback was immediate and indicative of a need for the results to be accessible on a far wider scale. The GoFundMe donations are going to help build a curriculum-specific digital platform which can be accessed by educators the world over for the benefit of their students.”

Loughrey also has a number of additional publication plans and projects that will benefit from the funding, such as transposing the work of 19th Century photographers like Mathew Brady – who had been unknowingly producing animated images of their subjects, which My Colorful Past is now converting into anaglyphs.

“I found out that Brady and his photographers had been inadvertently animating their subjects. I am not referring solely to stereoview cards but instead to an accidental result when using ‘multiplying’ cameras. Sometimes four or eight images were exposed to a single plate in order to provide a faster service.

“The images would expose from slightly different angles and I've spent the best part of two years transposing them to form a completely new library of material, a venture into the world of anaglyphs.”

You can support My Colorful Past via its GoFundMe campaign, and see some of the completed and in-progress projects on its Instagram page. You can also read our exclusive interview with Matthew Loughrey on his work, his upcoming projects and the day he received the world’s most polite death threat over his work.

Read more: 

My Colorful Past: "Bridging a gap between history and art using photo colorization"
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James Artaius

The editor of Digital Camera World, James has 21 years experience as a journalist and started working in the photographic industry in 2014 (as an assistant to Damian McGillicuddy, who succeeded David Bailey as Principal Photographer for Olympus). In this time he shot for clients like Aston Martin Racing, Elinchrom and L'Oréal, in addition to shooting campaigns and product testing for Olympus, and providing training for professionals. This has led him to being a go-to expert for camera and lens reviews, photo and lighting tutorials, as well as industry news, rumors and analysis for publications like Digital Camera MagazinePhotoPlus: The Canon MagazineN-Photo: The Nikon MagazineDigital Photographer and Professional Imagemaker, as well as hosting workshops and talks at The Photography Show. He also serves as a judge for the Red Bull Illume Photo Contest. An Olympus and Canon shooter, he has a wealth of knowledge on cameras of all makes – and a fondness for vintage lenses and instant cameras.