The glory days of punk and hardcore tend to be romanticized 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 stagedivers 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 color?
Over the last few months, Ulf Hammarkärr has been colorizing 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.
A photo posted by Ulf Hammarkärr (@ulfhammarkarr) on May 18, 2016 at 9:04am PDT
Noisey: What does the colorization 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.
A photo posted by Ulf Hammarkärr (@ulfhammarkarr) on May 6, 2016 at 3:17pm PDT
I noticed on one of your colorizations 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 color, 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 color, and I know because I was there,” I’ll try to update it.
Saturday night's colorization project: one of the coolest photos I know. Minor Threat watching Rodney Mullen skate. This classic photo was taken by @glenefriedman (cropped to fit the Instagram format, sorry for that) #minorthreat #rodneymullen #glenefriedman
A photo posted by Ulf Hammarkärr (@ulfhammarkarr) on Apr 2, 2016 at 1:17pm PDT
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 colorization, 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.
Tonight's colorization: Guy Picciotto with Fugazi. The original photo appears on the cover of Repeater (as the typography appears 'cut out' from the photo), and was taken by Jim Saah. #fugazi #dischord
A photo posted by Ulf Hammarkärr (@ulfhammarkarr) on Apr 19, 2016 at 3:24pm PDT
Does it lose some of black and white’s nostalgic beauty though?
Some people have told me that seeing the photos in color 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 color. 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 colorizing 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.
I've really thrown myself headfirst into colorizing, and I do it almost daily now. I think this is my favorite result so far. Original photo by Jim Saah, and it's another one of Ian and Minor Threat, but then again their words and music influenced me more than anyone else ever did. #minorthreat
A photo posted by Ulf Hammarkärr (@ulfhammarkarr) on Apr 11, 2016 at 3:05pm PDT
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.
A photo posted by Ulf Hammarkärr (@ulfhammarkarr) on Apr 26, 2016 at 2:49pm PDT
See more of Ulf's work on Instagram.
Dan Ozzi is on Twitter - @danozzi