Abraham Lincoln as he was.

I am not a fan of colorization.

When Ted Turner raised the specter of “colorizing” Hollywood classics back in the day (I’m pretty sure “the day” here refers to the early-mid 1980s), I was horrified. Scandalized. You do not take an artist’s work and scribble on it with your magic markers, because you think it might make you some money. Just: No.

However, I am an enormous fan of found-color-photography, such as these stunning photos out of a Wyoming internment camp for Japanese Americans or these equally stunning shots of small-town American life, circa 1939-1943 — that is, color photography that few people guessed existed, and which provide us a much better glimpse into the lives that people actually lived.

And then I recently found a colorized picture of our sixteenth President, and it did my head in.

I’ve seen colorized photographs of Abraham Lincoln before, and my response has always been — Just: No.

Either he looked like someone had applied rouge, or I felt someone was essentially making fashion choices for someone they’d never met, or – whatever. Just: No.

But something about the subdued, very realistic rendering of the coloring of his face and hair, and the fact that his suit has been left a crisp (and, by my lights, appropriate) black had me just staring at this picture, and suddenly seeing everything I know about Lincoln in color. His wife, his children, his walk to his law office in Springfield, the drapes in the White House. It made him – bigger, somehow. Fuller. More real? More real. Because that Legendary Lincoln we’ve built lives in black and white — but Lincoln lived in color.

So anyway, here’s the shot – I’ve printed it out, and it now hangs right next to my desk. I wish I could hear his voice, too.



  1. dmf

     /  June 25, 2012

  2. lysana

     /  June 25, 2012

    That was a fine job of colorizing Abe, indeed.

  3. stephen matlock

     /  June 25, 2012

    Yes, a nice job

  4. Where’s the axe he uses to hunt down vampires?

  5. stephen matlock

     /  June 25, 2012

    Two years ago the local theatre company did a workshop of “Lincoln in Love,” the story of him falling in love with Mary Todd, and the rivalry with Stephen Douglas for her affection. It was quite nice, but what really made it was how human it made him. Not somber or calculating or frustrated–just a young man in the prime of life enjoying life in the emerging west. I would love to see that show staged as a full musical some day.

  6. Bob Jones' Neighbor

     /  June 26, 2012

    With minimal Googling, I found that this photograph was taken in early 1865. It certainly evidences the wear and tear that the war gave to Lincoln’s face. He was about 56 years old at the time of this photograph.

    • aaron singer

       /  June 26, 2012

      The phenomena of President seemingly aging so much faster during their presidency will never cease to amaze me.

      • aaron singer

         /  June 26, 2012

        And I can’t think of any President who lived through more stress in so short a time.

  7. In 2009, the entire collection of Abraham Lincoln photos were published in color in the book “Color Of Lincoln” by Bryan Eaton http://www.coloroflincoln.com – These are in the Lincoln Collection at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, IL.

  8. Peter

     /  September 27, 2012

    Emily, that’s a nice picture. I heard about the Lincoln colorization on the radio last night, where the host was horrified to think of Lincoln as more “real” than B&W. He then proceeded to insult President Lincoln’s looks, in general and in detail, and I think less of him for doing so.

    This is the first colorized Lincoln I’ve ever seen, and it’s pretty much a good thing–thanks. A few times when I have been driving through central Illinois at night, I have stopped by the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, which, besides the Lincoln house, includes four square block. Both sides of the street a block each way N and S (Lincoln’s house is on a NE corner, facing W) are mostly preserved and restored to period appearance, with a few other Lincoln-era houses. Some of the land this way and that is dedicated to parkland, parking, and a visitors’ center. The streets are gravel and the sidewalks board, I think, and at night the “19th-century” lights are dim. There is no auto traffic on these streets and just nobody else walking them.

    Then you can stand on the corner across from the Lincoln house and imagine Abraham walking up the street, coming home =from= a late night at the law office a few blocks to the north. Or you can picture him standing out front talking with neighbors or playing in the street with his children into the evening. Maybe it was one of those early sundowns, and Mary comes out of the front door to call her boys–hubby included–in for dinner.

    Of course, you can visit in daytime and “re-create” some of the famous photographs of the house, but at night you can perhaps imagine Lincoln’s Springfield better. You can come down 8th Street, yourself, and, without 21st-century tourists and Park Service guides buzzing all around, what you see is much like what Abraham saw. What you imagine him thinking and anticipating on any given night, who knows. Maybe he’s just relaxing and looking south at the stars in the sky showing between the tree silhouettes.

    A colorized photo is a more accurate image, even if not the original image, and this should help people feel the reality of the man. Have you visited Springfield, Emily? It’s fairly dense with Lincoln sites, and at each stop you’ll be getting him even deeper, I know. (And now I have to look more at your website and the site Mr. Eaton recommends.)