When Marina Amaral looks at a black-and-white photograph, she doesn’t see 50 shades of grey. She sees the true colours of the scene captured by the photographer – sometimes more than a century ago – and she sets about recreating them.
Amaral is a 22-year-old Brazilian artist whose digital colourisations of iconic black-and-white images have become an internet sensation. Her work breathes new life into old pictures, stripping away the years and giving them an astonishing immediacy.
A photograph of medics from the US 5th and 6th Engineer Special Brigade helping a wounded soldier on to Omaha Beach during the D-Day landings in 1944 is so vivid after Amaral’s treatment that one can almost hear the howls of agony and the zip of the bullets.
In a photograph of a makeshift field hospital in Ca Mau, Vietnam, from 1970, you can smell the fetid swamp water.
Amaral, who lives in the city of Belo Horizonte, taught herself how to use Photoshop when she was 12 by watching tutorials on YouTube and experimenting. For years it was simply a hobby, but in 2015 she came across some colourised photographs of the Second World War on the internet and felt she could create something similar.
She has now completed more than 300 pictures, including private work such as old wedding photographs and family portraits, and has left college, where she was studying international relations, to devote herself full-time to her work.
“The first part is always the research,” she says. “If I have a Second World War photograph, for example, I will research the colours of the uniforms, medals, ribbons, boots, patches, vehicles, skin, eye and hair colours when possible.
“I will try to find modern photographs of the location where the picture was originally taken, visual descriptions that might be available in historical documents, books and so on.
“This part can take me a few days. After that, I start to colour. Imagine a giant colouring book and you’ll have a pretty good idea of how it works. Every detail that you see is coloured by hand. If I see a pebble in the sand, I’ll spend at least 10 minutes working on its colours.”
The simplest pictures can be finished in an hour. The most complex she has undertaken, a picture of New York’s East River Banana Docks taken around 1900, took 15 days.
Her personal favourite is of the American solider Capt Thomas Garahan raising the Stars and Stripes above the French town of Bitche in March 1945.
“I like the overall look of the colours but, more than that, the meaning of this picture,” she says. “It symbolises the liberation and the end of the suffering of many people.
“History is beautiful and fascinating, and it must be appreciated. My goal is not to replace the original photo, but to offer a second perspective.”
It is a test she passes with flying colours.
To see more of Marina Amaral's work go to www.marinamaral.com