Colour Tinting Photos by Hand

I've recently started to attempt colour tinting photos by hand.  When researching photography from a century ago, in Ireland's national archives we have very little true colour images like the autochrome plate process.  Especially compared to other European countries, this rarity of true colour shows the lack of disposable income in Ireland at the time.  Most photos are hand tinted by paint or dyes. 

Since I'm already shooting on cameras from World War 1, I might as well go one step further into time consuming frustration and start hand tinting colour into the black and white prints. 

I found some Marshall retouching inks in a lab I use, that were about to be thrown away (expiry date 1994), back in the day Marshall retouching dyes were the best.  Luckily I got a whole set for free, they can go for up to $150 for a set on ebay. 

At a recent exhibition on 1916, I came across this hand tinted image of Irish soldiers in 1914 about to set off to France.  Strange how happy these men look at the start of the war, how little they knew of the meat grinder that was ahead of them. 

The first step is getting a good darkroom print, I've found through trail and error that printing them a little too light with not too much dmax in the blacks is best for hand painting the final print.  Usually I do the opposite when doing a standard darkroom print, where I like almost jet black in the shadows but the darker the tone the harder for the colour to come through.  Using sepia toner bleach is a possible way of reducing the tones before painting. 

The Original black and white image, from a Kodak Junior 1A from 1916.  

Also on a unrelated topic, when I was in Belfast taking these photos.  A very obese man in a Rangers Jersey approached me and my girlfriend and says, nice camera looks like an old one. 

Me:  Thanks.

Orange Man:  Jees that's a great camera does it work,  Where yee from.  

Me:  (I'm thinking in this part of Belfast by a union Jack mural Dublin would not be a popular destination).  I say the nearest county in the Republic I can think of my girlfriends home county Monaghan.  

Orange Man:  Monaghan (he scratch's his head looking confused) what county is that town in?

Me:  Monaghan is a County not a town.

Orange Man:  Monaghan, are you sure, I don't know any Monaghan.  

Me:  Monaghan, past Fermanagh beside Cavan.  My girlfriend also politely tries to explain.  

Orange Man:  I know Fermanagh, but Monaghan (looks very confused), scratch's his head again Cavan I don't know any Cavan.  

Me:  You know just across the border past Fermanagh.

Orange Man:  Ohhh I see yous two are from over there, yees are from that side, I see.  He then smiles at us, shakes my hand and says "Welcome to East Belfast".  

A Much more pleasant experience than I had in Derry in 2009, where I had to pretend to be a lost German tourist to avoid getting the shit kicked out of me, but that's another story.  

In between stages of hand tinting.  

July 12th Belfast, shot with a Kodak Junior 1A from 1916.

The 12th ofJuly Belfast.  A mix of Acrylic wash and Marshall retouching dyes.  Ilford Multigrade pearl paper. 

Irish Water protest on O'Connell Street.  

Marriage Equality referendum victory night.

Irish Marriage equality referendum night, May 2015.  I think daylight is best for the coloring effect I wanted the Rainbow flags, but the effect does not work too well in a dark scene lit by flash.  Also the Ilford Fiber paper can be too absorbent for the dyes and inks.  

Easter Rising GPO commemoration 2015, Box Brownie from 1916.  

There is much trial and error in the process, and sometimes you even have to throw out a print and a couple of hours work with one little wrong turn of a brush stroke. 

It's a time consuming process but one I'm slowly improving in, although I still feel the images don't have the full look of the hand tinted images of a century ago.