Like many people, I’ve been captivated by the recent glut of upscaled and enhanced historical films, like the 1911 footage of New York City or the incredible stabilised film taken from Wuppertal’s Schwebebahn in 1902.
Such footage is incredible, but uncanny; I thought it was simply the glitches and artefacts of the upscaling process, but there’s actually an ethical unease here too, as Thomas Nicholson explores.
“Digital upscalers and the millions who’ve watched their work on YouTube say they’re making the past relatable for viewers in 2020, but for some historians of art and image-making, modernising century-old archives brings a host of problems. Even adding colour to black and white photographs is hotly contested.”
Nicholson quotes the film historian Luke McKernan, who says:
“Colourisation does not bring us closer to the past; it increases the gap between now and then. It does not enable immediacy; it creates difference. It makes the past record all the more distant for rejecting what is honest about it.”