Imbued With Hues: Visions of a Colorful Past

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Portland artist Patty Allison uses modern technology—Photoshop, Google Street View, as well as the collective wisdom of Reddit users—to make the distant past feel less remote. Since 2013, Allison has been meticulously colorizing photos of Maine life from more than a century ago. In Maine Historical Society’s newest exhibition, Imbued With Hues, Allison’s work gets its first official exhibition.

Working with MHS, Allison has been able to colorize photos from MHS’s extensive collection. She had previously been using publicly available photos from the Library of Congress.

“The awesome thing about collaborating with MHS is that I’ve been able to colorize photos that I’ve never seen before,” Allison said. “And Maine has so much history—it is so exciting to be able to do these.”

By adding a semi-transparent layer of color to each pixel in Photoshop, Allison is able to give a rosy glow to the formerly grey cheeks of Portland’s turn-of-the-century denizens.

Patty Allison Imbued With Hues Opening
Patty Allison at the Imbued With Hues exhibition opening.

“When I finish a photo it’s like going back in time, and I want that photo to look perfect because I’m colorizing someone or something,” Allison said. “I would want the person in the photo to look at it and say, ‘yes, that’s how it looked!’”

Combining extensive research on the colors and textures of a particular place at a particular time—whether a Portland street corner or a Peaks Island ferry landing—with her own artistic interpretation, Allison brings an arresting realism to these old photos.

The Internet, which has made her work possible, has also allowed her work to connect with others—sometimes even the subjects themselves.

“I colorized a photo of a homecoming parade in Florida in 1960,” Allison said. “Somehow, one of the people in the photo found their way to my Facebook page and saw the photo! She was so excited, and said I got all the colors right.”

Allison’s work is on display at MHS through January 30. Prints are also available for purchase!

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