John Guntzelman’s ‘The Civil War in Color’

Instead of taking a family photograph and writing about it today, I decided to talk about John C. Guntzelman’s book The Civil War in Color: A Photographic Reenactment of the War Between the States.

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There’s been a lot of press recently regarding this publication, especially since the sesquicentennial of many of the battles are happening this year and next. Guntzelman has taken photographs by Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner, and Timothy O’Sullivan, all well known portrait photographers of the 1860s, and given them hand-tinted looks.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress and John C. Guntzelman.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress and John C. Guntzelman.

From an artistic perspective, I think it’s great that Guntzelman has taken it upon himself to colorize these epic portraits and landscapes from the Civil War; however, I find that the images he colorizes are often focused more on the color of the landscapes and uniforms, more than focusing on the people themselves. This enhancement to include color pulls the figures out of their surroundings, making them seem almost separate from the picture, disconnecting them from history.

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Image courtesy of the Library of Congress and John C. Guntzelman.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I enjoy the black and white photographs for all the little inconsequential detail that is overshadowed.  I feel the colors should be brought forth in your own imagination, thereby placing your own feelings onto the image. Just like with movies, Guntzelman has placed his imagination into these images and allowed us to glimpse the photographs as he sees them.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress and John C. Guntzelman.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress and John C. Guntzelman.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress and John C. Guntzelman.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress and John C. Guntzelman.

I have to say though, that although I have some personal arguments about the accuracy of the colors in the portraits, this book is fabulous. I grabbed it to look over on my lunch break (I work at a bookstore when I’m not doing museum, volleyball, or blog stuff) on Monday, and I was quite impressed with the sheer number of images Guntzelman tinted. I’m not sure if there is a larger collection in print of Civil War photographs, but this one covers every aspect from the war, including famous generals, companies of soldiers, African Americans at work, to casualties and the destruction of Southern cities and towns.  Additionally, this makes these photographs more accessible to the public, helping to educate individuals about the Civil War and how many lives it affected.

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4 Comments

Filed under Books, Photograph

4 responses to “John Guntzelman’s ‘The Civil War in Color’

  1. Very haunting to me, seeing these people in color. But the colorized versions lack a sense of history too.

  2. That’s absolutely fascinating! I just finished reading Susan Sontag’s On Photography for one of my classes and have been thinking a lot about the way images distort and manipulate reality. On one hand it’s absolutely haunting to see them in color and on the other hand it’s almost amusing. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Kat

    I loved the colorization. Makes it seem so NOW.

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