This Graphic Designer Is Colourising Vintage Punk and Hardcore Photos
All your favourite iconic shots, dragged into the modern era.
The glory days of punk and hardcore tend to be romanticised in hindsight, and maybe that’s because of how they were captured. Whenever we see photos of bands from the 70s and early 80s, they tend to be stark, black and white shots depicting stage-divers launching themselves into an onlooking crowd or singers screaming into microphones until the veins in their foreheads bulged out. One graphic designer based in Malmö, Sweden is posing a very simple question: What if these photos were in colour?
Over the last few months, Ulf Hammarkärr has been colourising classic photos of the punk and hardcore scene—from Minor Threat at the Dischord House to Warzone at CBGB—and posting the results on Instagram. The reaction has been positive, he says, and his number of followers quickly doubled. But what are we gaining by seeing these iconic images dragged into the modern era? What are we losing? We talked to Hammarkärr to see what he’s learned from this project.
Noisey: What does the colourisation process entail?
Ulf Hammarkärr: First it’s finding a photo of enough interest and a good enough quality. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes I have direct contact with the photographer, and sometimes I just snag them off Google. I do it all in Photoshop. Before I start, I do a fair bit of research for every photo, trying to figure out what color the guitar is, for example. It’s pretty easy to find other color photos from the same show or the same era, so you can guess. When I did a Warzone one, for example, there was a blue trucker hat that I’d seen in YouTube clips. So I do a bit of research on Google, Pinterest, Tumblr, and YouTube.
I noticed on one of your colourisations of the iconic shot of Minor Threat in front of the Dischord House, you said you went back and updated it because you learned that the color of Ian’s Vans were red.
Yeah, well, it was part that, and also that I got the color of the house wrong. There’s something that can be deceiving about Google research. Most photos of the Dischord House are like a dark red, maroonish colour, but it wasn’t that color originally, and it was repainted sometime after the early 80s. So I found a couple of low-quality images on Pinterest and realized it was probably blue before that. It’s a lot of guesswork and trying to estimate what could have been. I try to keep it alive with feedback. If someone is telling me, “This was this colour, and I know because I was there,” I’ll try to update it.
Have you heard from the photographers themselves?
A couple of them, yeah. I’ve been emailing with Dave Sine who’s done a lot of late 80s hardcore photos, asking him for high-res versions of his photos. He told me from the start that he’s not a big fan of colourisation, but he thought it was cool anyway. It’s a way of giving a new dimension to old photos, seeing them in a new way.
Does it lose some of black and white’s nostalgic beauty though?
Some people have told me that seeing the photos in colour have made them realize that it’s actually stuff that happened and not just historical images of something that’s been very romanticized and idolized. I think that’s very much a question of generation. I’m 28 years old, so I’ve never had a black and white TV; I’ve always seen stuff in colour. I’ve always been aware of black and white photography, but I’ve not been able to relate to it like color photography. I’ve been colourising old photos for my parents, and while they think it’s cool, to them it’s not the same thing. They have another relationship with black and white photography.
What's something you've learned about these bands or these scenes by spending so much time working on these photos?
I’ve realized that there are members of other bands in the audience. I’d never really zoomed in on the pictures to see who is in there. But when you start looking at every single face, you’re like, “Oh! That’s that person from that band.” Sometimes it kind of feels ridiculous, the time you spend trying to figure out the color of Ray Cappo’s shorts. But on the other hand, it’s all fun. I find some relaxation in it.
See more of Ulf's work on Instagram.
Dan Ozzi is on Twitter - @danozzi