“I need to be moved by a picture
(by style, composition, story, …).
If not it doesn’t work.”
Interview with Marie-Lou Chatel
by Marie-Pierre Lambelin
1/ What is your artistic career?
I am self-taught. I always loved books, and art in all its forms.
2/ Where did you get this passion for photography?
Since my adolescence, I was always interested in photography. With my work of colorization, I discover and learn about these great photographers of the century. It is fascinating.
3/ How did you get the idea of restoring old photographs, to give them their colors
By accident. I was looking to find a way to express myself artistically. As i’m not so bad with photo editing softwares, i searched in this field what could fit the best to my desire for creation. Because I was in a learning curve, I’ve been looking through several video tutorials and amongst them, one was about this technique. I started first with photo restoration but moved quickly to colorization.
1943 Mar New York. Forty-second Street and Fifth Avenue on a rainy day.
Restored and colorized January 27 2015 ©By Marie-Lou Chatel.
Photographer : ©By John Vachon 1912-1985.
Digital file from original: LC-DIG-fsa-8d26833. No known restrictions.
4/ How do you choose the photos that you work with? (photographers you love, legal issues etc …?)
It depend on my discoveries. This is one of the most interesting parts in this work.. I regularly going on shorpy.com which is a blog about vintage photography: they have thousand of HD pictures. I need to be moved by a picture (by style, composition, story, …). If not it doesn’t work. If I don’t know the photographer, I try to get more information on his life.
I can either choose a picture from 1900 or from 1980 or 1990…I like all decades as this is a very good opportunity for me to learn something about daily lives of the people. I’m currently restricted to american pictures (free of copyright, of course) . I would be very interested to work on French digital archives or other. But I’m facing the problem of a big lack of choice.
5/ What is the technique ? How long do you need to restore a picture?
5a) My two main software are Photoshop and Lightroom, and sometimes few others. Before starting colorization, I use several Photoshop tools like the Stamp, the Patch, the Local adjustment in order to remove the dust, scratches, cracks and any other imperfections. Then I correct tones with Lightroom (in order for instance to add more contrast).
Once those correction are done, I start the colorization. Each color has it’s own layer and mask and I use that with filters in order to get the desired result. I’m also using several other settings and filters…but those are my little secrets ;)
5b) It depends on the general appearance of the picture. The more details there are, the longer the time it takes for a photo. It can range from a minimum of 2 hours to three days.
1942 Aug New York. Waiting for the trains at the Pennsylvania railroad station.
Photographer : ©By Collins, Marjory 1912-1985
Restored and colorized Jan, 12 2014 ©By Marie-Lou Chatel.
Digital file from original: LC-DIG-fsa-8d21836 No known restrictions.
6/ How and where do you document and find the vintage colors?
I’m looking at many old movies (like touristic advertisement), I read, I consult archives documents, I go on specialized websites in order to get as much information as I can on clothes colors, buildings colors, things like that. And if I still don’t find what I’m looking for, I have historian friends on Facebook who can help me sometime.
7/ Is there a photographer you prefer to work on their pictures, if yes why?
I do not have a favorite photographer. The most important is the photo.
8/ What brings you to this restoration work? What are you looking for from the
A lot of pleasure, I think of having found an artistic activity which corresponds with what I looked for, it is really fascinating. It is clear, that this work completely changed my life, and I could never do without.
For the very positive moment, Of course, there is always the opponents who think that this technique is useless. But on the whole I have good feedback. In fact by adding the color, the spectator is brought a little bit closer to the reality in which they were taken. Colorizing pictures contributes to giving an overview of the world such as it was long ago and I think that give maybe the opportunity to see what that the photographer saw through his lens.
1924 April Washington snow scenes
Restored and colorized February 6 2015 ©By Marie-Lou Chatel.
Photographer : ©By Harris & Ewing.
Digital file from original: LC-DIG-hec-32230. No known restrictions.
1942 Aug New York. Chinese grocery store in Chinatown.
Restored and colorized January 24, 2015 ©By Marie-Lou Chatel.
Photographer : ©By Collins Marjory 1912-1985.
Digital file from original: LC-DIG-fsa-8d21957. No known restrictions.