There is a rather strange argument, in my opinion, about the ethics and aesthetics of coloring black and white photographs.
The pros and cons were aired in The Irish Times. The argument for colorization is that the subjects involved saw their lives in color.
The counter-argument to colorization is that it interferes with the original source material, and the process is, by definition, a matter of guesswork.
Arguments have generally overtaken the public given the phenomenal success of John Breslin and Sarah Anne Buckley’s Old Ireland in Color and similar books.
The latest addition to the genre is The Irish Civil War in Color. Michael Barry expertly chronicled the Irish Revolution through photography in his books The Fight for Irish Freedom: An Illustrated History of the War of Independence and Fake News and the Irish War of Independence.
He is joined for his latest addition by professional photographer John O’Byrne. O’Byrne delivers a strong defense of colorization, pointing out that no photograph can reproduce what the human eye sees. Therefore, all photographs are by definition interpretations of what is seen through the lens.
O’Byrne explains that he uses Adobe Photoshop to select each color segment instead of using artificial intelligence. “In this book, no AI software was used because, in our opinion, it results in a pasteurized or waxy look.”
The result is a book full of surprising images. It forces us to revisit the photographs we know well from the Civil War, notably the anti-treaty forces marching down Grafton Street, which is the cover image.
Michael Collins’ deathbed image is rendered in color, but so are the lesser-known images of anti-treaty rebels who were killed in the Civil War, Cathal Brugha and Liam Lynch.
We live in the age of smartphones and DSLR cameras where anything and everything is photographed. Photography has never been so convenient, but digital images will never replace film as a medium capable of capturing the true essence of things.
The living faces in this book are a powerful testimony to the destructiveness of the Irish Civil War, a war as pointless as it was bitter.