There was a great era between the invention of photography and the time color photography came into its own after World War II, when fanciful pinup art might (rather than being hand-drawn in a lifelike style) start with a photograph (with or without extensive alterations of the negative) and then be modified with colored inks during the printing process or by hand afterward. There were endless varieties of these “hand-coloring” techniques and serious image collectors can discourse upon them at length. But in this digital age, there’s another common complication. If someone who encounters one of these fine old “hand-colored” images loves it enough to scan it for reproduction in the digital age, odds are they can’t resist “fixing” it a little bit, too. Everybody with a scanner does this. Remove a scratch here, crop away the mouse nibbles from the right edge, clean up a water spot, tweak the gamma a bit to account for fading, maybe adjust the color balance a bit. But what makes things really complicated is that in age of Photoshop, everybody is a potential colorist, too. Given the difficulty and expense of producing color artwork “back in the day”, a lot of stuff was done without coloring, and some people enjoy the challenge of what Ted Turner used to call “colorizing” it.

At its peak, this is an art form unto itself, creating new beauty where none existed before. And I’d have no word against it, except that I’d purely love to know what I’m looking at when I see it — and the way the web tends to strip images from their metadata and attributions, that can be a problem. If it’s done well, you won’t know unless you’re familiar with the uncolored source image. Done a little less well, the image will look “wrong” — the colors will seem inappropriate to the era. But all that does for a blogger like me is create stress — I’m always encountering wonderful vintage art that I’m amazed to discover existed in the era it came from. So when I see some wonderful colorful erotic thing that “looks wrong”, is it my knowledge that’s defective, or the color taste of some unknown photoshop wizard? There’s never a way to tell.

My own color taste is very poor; not only am I a man who never got the “goes with” briefing, but I’m one of the 10% or so of men whose color vision is nonstandard and thus unreliable. So when I’m “cleaning up” an image, I leave the colors the hell alone. But when I encounter an image where the colors “look wrong” to me, I face two choices … trust my gut and ignore the image, or share it anyway, hoping that it’s pretty (either “naturally” from its own era, or as the product of a modern improver) to people whose color taste is better than my own.

This mini essay is by way of explaining that I waffled long and hard over the harem girl image that follows. I suspect she’s been heavily “improved” by a Photoshop artist with a fairly heavy hand, but she’s still pretty, and in this case, I’m not actually certain:

hand-colored harem girl

Source, of course, is a Tumblr, meaning it’s the usual dead end where attribution and provenance is concerned.

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