Staunton, January 21 – Peter Jackson’s remarkable documentary, “They Shall Never Grow Old,” in which he colorized and remastered black-and-white film clips from World War I, is changing the way many in the West view World War I, not as a distant conflict but one far closer to our own time.
When one watches that film, the people in it look like us; and we lose the distance that black-and-white photography puts between those photographed and those looking at their photographs or films. How large a transformation this film will make on the views of that conflict of whom there are now no surviving combatants is unclear, but change them it will.
Now, something remarkably similar is taking place in Russia with the family of the last tsar. Artist Olga Shirnina has transformed almost 200 black-and-white photos of the Imperial Family into colorize versions and put them on line where they look out at us very differently than their earlier versions (flickr.com/photos/22155693@N04/sets/72157641338560284).
In reporting this development, the Grandpaper.ru portal suggests that as a result of Shirnina’s work, “the old photographs have acquired a second life, and now we can look at the blue-eyed daughters of the tsar in their lace dresses, at Nicholas II in his blue and red uniform, at the unhappy Tsarevich Aleksey, and at others as well” (grandpaper.ru/g/colouring-romanovs).
Once one sees the tsar and his family as they actually looked and not reduced to black-and-white artefacts, it is far easier to view them as human beings and far less easy to accept their reduction to weapons in the hands of those who want to make them into demons – or into mythical heroes either.