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Indonesian Photo Colorization Enthusiasts Bring History to Life

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March 16, 2022

JAKARTA – Two colorization enthusiasts bring old images back to life with the aim of making history talk and learn.

In order to allow everyone to see the liveliness of the past, enthusiasts of historical photographs colorize old black and white photos.

Among those colorful old monochrome images is Sadam, who prefers to go by his “Mazzini” online persona and uses the handle @mazzini_gsp on Twitter and Instagram.

“I have been coloring historic photos since early 2021. I first colorized an old photo to accompany my history post on Twitter. I ended up colorizing old photos until today because it turns out to be addictive,” he said. While Mazzini may be new to the colorization scene, Heru Iswanto, 40, from Bandung, is more seasoned. The police officer, who posts as @tukangpulas_asli on Instagram and as @tukangpulas on Twitter, has been offering viewers a way to travel back in time for just over five years. “Coloring black and white photos has been my hobby since November 2016. I think it’s a unique hobby, and photo colorization techniques are not very well known,” he said. declared. Heru added that his goal is for netizens to be able to “get in touch with the past and learn more about history.”

Vibrant Technique: Heru Iswanto earns a small income from his photo colorization services, for which he uses Adobe Photoshop. (Courtesy of Heru Ismanto) (Personal collection/Courtesy of Heru Ismanto)

Same lens, different technology
Mazzini and Heru use different software to add color to black and white photos. “I colorize black and white photos with Photoshop,” Heru said, referring to Adobe software that has stood the test of time. “Mastering the basics of Photoshop is a must” for people who wanted to start colorizing old photos, he pointed out. While Heru prefers the “old school” method, Mazzini found the software too cumbersome for him, so he prefers another photo editor that allows him more versatility. “There are many methods and applications used to colorize old photos and each software is different,” Mazzini said. “I prefer using the PicsArt app because the functionality is easier. We use a stylus, so it’s like drawing on a sheet of paper. With Photoshop, we would need to use a mouse,” he said. Mazzini explained, however, that the process of colorizing old black-and-white photos isn’t as simple as picking up the stylus and adding color. Researching the photograph and understanding its historical context were essential. “The picture must [have] very high resolution so we can zoom in multiple times and add the colors in detail,” he said of the initial selection process. “We then have to look for the context behind the image. For example, we have to match the colors of the clothes in the photo, buildings and vehicles, among other things, to the year of the initial shooting,” explained Mazzini. “If I had a problem, I would go to a historian, or people with military knowledge for war photos and people with knowledge of vintage vehicles for images of streets and cities. Only after understanding the context behind the images can I begin to colorize.

Banishment bias: Sadam, or “Mazzini,” who works in the media industry, aims to dispel the belief that history is boring by colorizing historic photos like this one, which shows the car that belonged to the British officer Aubertin Walter Sothern Mallaby which was destroyed. during the Battle of Surabaya. (Courtesy of Sadam) (Personal collection/Courtesy of Mazzini)

Colorizing photos is neither Mazzini’s nor Heru’s main source of income. While Heru earns his living as a policeman, Mazzini works in the media industry. However, they still earn a decent amount of money from their hobby. This is especially true for Heru, which offers its colorization service as a side business. “Al-Hamdulillah [Praise be to God], I earn a little from this hobby. The price varies depending on the difficulty of the picture,” admitted Heru. Meanwhile, Mazzini earns an income from his hobby through donations, though he acknowledges he would earn more if he offered photo colorization as a service. “I make money from colorization. It’s not a lot because the money comes from donations on Trakteer,” he said, referring to a fan-supported artist platform. “It’s just a hobby for me, after all. That said, a lot [people] out there offer colorization services.

Positivity and pride
Mazzini and Heru upload their colorized photos to Instagram and Twitter. “I post my work on Instagram, Twitter and sometimes Facebook. Alhamdulillah, the responses I have received have been positive,” Heru said. “I received various responses to my work. For example, when I post a photo from the Indonesian War of Independence or World Wars I and II, people usually respond by discussing the historical context of the image, such as the battle or war depicted in the photo,” a explained Mazzini. “If the photo depicts a condition in a city, it is usually the people of that city who respond to the message, while also providing the current conditions [there]. If the photo depicts people, the comments are more likely to be about the clothes or the beautiful faces in the photo,” he added. “I happen to color the photos of Euro-Indonesian girls a lot. The images are from the Dutch East Indies era.

In the Spotlight: Heru Iswanto, a Bandung native and police officer, is most proud of this colorized photo showing national hero General Ahmad Yani and his wife, which is on display at the Sasmitaloka Ahmad Yani Museum in the center from Jakarta. (Courtesy of Heru Iswanto) (Personal collection/Courtesy of Heru Ismanto)

One of Heru’s colorized photos shows national hero General Ahmad Yani and his wife. He said he was most proud of his work on this particular image because it was on display “in the museum”, referring to the namesake Sasmitaloka Ahmad Yani Museum in central Jakarta. Meanwhile, Mazzini was most proud of two photos he colorized, one because of the effort he put in and the other for its historical context. “I once spent days coloring a picture. It shows a little girl hugging her doll amid the ruins of London after the city was bombed by the German Luftwaffe during World War II in 1940” , he explained. The other photo is a photo of the LaSalle car that belonged to the British officer Aubertin Walter Sothern Mallaby which was destroyed on October 30, 1945, when it was bombed by fighters of the independence in the Battle of Surabaya.” The search to colorize the image also took time. I had to travel a long way before I found Ruslan Abdulgani’s depiction of Mallaby’s car. According to his notes, the color of the car was gray. Reiterating his intention to colorize vintage black-and-white photos, he said, “I want to dispel the belief that history is boring. According to Mazzini, this prevailing belief came from the fact that people had to spend time memorizing years and names in history lessons. “I hope to eliminate this perception,” he stressed. He hoped that by reviving old photos to their colorful glory, people could discuss history in a more relaxed way. “Therefore, there will be more people discussing history,” he concluded.