World History & Research Reports

HISTORY TODAY: Colourising Black-And-White Photos Ignites Kelly Bonato’s Passion

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#AceHistoryDesk says Black-and-white photographs have always been a window to the past, but Kelly Bonato wants a better look: Hidden in an old box in her garage, Kelly rediscovered old family photos from the 1870s that she was given in her 20s: They blew her away: ” according to ABC News Report:

a half black and white, half colour image of two men taken in 1955
Kelly Bonato has found the love of colourising old photographs, like this one of two gentlemen from 1955.(Supplied: Kelly Bonato)

I had forgotten about the photos,” the Adelaide resident say: I had no sense of my family history, so I really had no idea who the people in the photographs were.” Kelly shared the photos with her wider family and quickly learnt her ancestors had been early pioneers in South Australia, hailing from Scotland……..” When I realised just how much my whole family loved them, I began to bring the more well-loved ones back to life.”

a group of people in the late 1800's
Colourising images brings them to life.(Supplied: Kelly Bonato)
black and white image from the late 1800's
This black-and-white image was taken between 1890 and 1910.(Supplied: Kelly Bonato)

Kelly’s son, serendipitously a software engineer, built her a photograph colourisation tool.

Using the new tool and photo editing software, Kelly got to work.

“After I colourise photos, I go back over them on photoshop just to fine-tune the colours whether it be skin tone or the building paint,” she says.

“It’s like a big, great game of colouring-in.”

Learning so much about her family from the rediscovery of the family photo album, Kelly quickly found she had an insatiable thirst for history and old black-and-white photographs — not just those belonging to her family.

a group of people at a picnic in 1898
A picnic in Peterborough in 1898 feels more recent in a colourised image.(Supplied: Kelly Bonato)
a group of people on a picnic in 1898
The original image from the State Library of South Australia, Peterborough Collection.(Supplied: Kelly Bonato)

“I spend hours looking now, trawling the State Library and the state History Trust,” she says.

While others were teaching themselves how to cook sourdough and participating in at-home yoga, Kelly chose to perfect her colourisation skills.

“I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but I used the pandemic time to work on this particular skill and I was never too good at cooking anyway,” she says.

“It has been quite the escape [from the pandemic].”

a large group of women in a photgraph from 1898, half black and white half colourised
The original photo was taken in 1898 by Ernest Gall and is called ‘Theatre at Mr Barr-Smith’s residence’.(ABC North and West)

In technicolour

Kelly believes the colourisation process can bring historical photographs into our current reality.

“For me, personally, it makes them more relevant and brings them alive,” she says.

“We see the world in colour, so when I see things in black-and-white it doesn’t seem as real to me.”

two young girls from 1951
Commonwealth Jubilee Celebrations, Australian Glass Manufacturers Ltd float in a photograph from the State Library colourised by Kelly.(Supplied: Kelly Bonato)
black and white image of two girls in 1951
The original photo in 1951.(Supplied: Kelly Bonato)

Kelly has started a Facebook page, posting both the original black-and-white image and her new colourised version.

“It is important to get people’s attention first with the coloured photo so they then read the history behind it,” Kelly says.

The photographs Kelly chooses to colourise span the entirety of South Australia.

“I have to be honest, I’ve coloured photos from places I have never been to,” she says.

a railway in 1888
‘Railway Cutting, Pichi Richi’, taken by James Taylor in 1888.(Supplied: Kelly Bonato)
an old railway line in 1888
The colourised version.(Supplied: Kelly Bonato)

With a focus on regional photographs, Kelly is drawn to the stories that are not always well-known and, for her, those are stories from the bush.

“I do love finding photographs of people and finding their stories,” she says.

While people seem to be her obsession, she also knows the more important buildings to look out for in the country for her audience.

“Having spent some time in country towns myself, I do keep a close eye out for pubs. I know how important they are.”

people play fighting in a photograph taken at a beach in 1925
The colourised version of an image taken at Sellicks Beach in 1925.(Supplied: Kelly Bonato)
a group of people in a play fight in 1925
The original photograph of a play named Harley-Davidson Club House is from the State Library of South Australia.(Supplied: Kelly Bonato)
#AceNewsDesk report ……….Published: Feb.28: 2022:

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