Russian History & Literature Come to Life in Wonderfully Colorized Portraits: See Photos of Tolstoy, Chekhov, the Romanovs & More

Col­orized episodes of I Love Lucy verge on sac­ri­lege, but Olga Shirn­i­na, a trans­la­tor and ama­teur col­orist of con­sid­er­able tal­ent, has unques­tion­ably noble goals when col­oriz­ing vin­tage por­traits, such as that of the Romanovs, above.

In her view, col­or has the pow­er to close the gap between the sub­jects of musty pub­lic domain pho­tos and their mod­ern view­ers. The most ful­fill­ing moment for this artist, aka Klimblim, comes when “sud­den­ly the per­son looks back at you as if he’s alive.”

A before and after com­par­i­son of her dig­i­tal makeover on Nadezh­da Kolesniko­va, one of many female Sovi­et snipers whose vin­tage like­ness­es she has col­orized bears this out. The col­or ver­sion could be a fash­ion spread in a cur­rent mag­a­zine, except there’s noth­ing arti­fi­cial-seem­ing about this 1943 pose.

“The world was nev­er mono­chrome even dur­ing the war,” Shirn­i­na reflect­ed in the Dai­ly Mail.

Mil­i­tary sub­jects pose a par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge:

When I col­orize uni­forms I have to search for info about the colours or ask experts. So I’m not free in choos­ing col­ors. When I col­orize a dress on a 1890s pho­to, I look at what col­ors were fash­ion­able at that time. When I have no lim­i­ta­tions I play with colours look­ing for the best com­bi­na­tion. It’s real­ly quite arbi­trary but a cou­ple of years ago I trans­lat­ed a book about colours and hope that some­thing from it is left in my head.

She also puts her­self on a short leash where famous sub­jects are con­cerned. Eye­wit­ness accounts of Vladimir Lenin’s eye col­or ensured that the revolutionary’s col­orized iris­es would remain true to life.

And while there may be a mar­ket for rep­re­sen­ta­tions of punked out Russ­ian lit­er­ary heroes, Shirn­i­na plays it straight there too, eschew­ing the dig­i­tal Man­ic Pan­ic where Chekhov, Tol­stoy, and Bul­gakov are con­cerned.

Her hand with Pho­to­shop CS6 may restore celebri­ty to those whose stars have fad­ed with time, like Vera Komis­sarzhevskaya, the orig­i­nal ingenue in Chekhov’s much per­formed play The Seag­ull and wrestler Karl Pospis­chil, who showed off his physique sans culotte in a pho­to from 1912.

Even the unsung pro­le­tari­at are giv­en a chance to shine from the fields and fac­to­ry floors.

Browse an eye pop­ping gallery of Olga Shirnina’s work on her web­site.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Beau­ti­ful, Col­or Pho­tographs of Paris Tak­en 100 Years Ago—at the Begin­ning of World War I & the End of La Belle Époque

Col­orized Pho­tos Bring Walt Whit­man, Char­lie Chap­lin, Helen Keller & Mark Twain Back to Life

Venice in Beau­ti­ful Col­or Images 125 Years Ago: The Rial­to Bridge, St. Mark’s Basil­i­ca, Doge’s Palace & More

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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