This absolutely jaw-dropping photo is exactly the kind of history I love to see the most: a real, genuine piece of the past that has been made vivid, real and accessible in a way that speaks to us today very powerfully. In this photo, taken between 1890 and 1910 (my guess is it’s around 1900), a ship carrying bananas from Central or South America has just docked at a pier in the East River in New York City and fruit agents–the men in suits–are already haggling for deals, even before the bananas themselves have been unloaded. Carts are ready to haul the fresh fruit away to marketplaces, most of them probably not too far away from this site. In the meantime, lots of other commerce is going on, and you can see the buildings of Manhattan rising in the background. This is a very evocative image that speaks to the economic power of New York as a hub of the world in the late 19th and early 20th century.
This photo looks like it was taken on a modern movie set, but it is genuine–this scene really happened in real life sometime in the last 100 to 120 years. It’s so vivid because it has been colorized, and magnificently so, with modern computer tools. That has been done by Marina Amaral, a digital colorist from Brazil who specializes in this kind of work. Here is Marina’s Twitter, and here is her website (she does this kind of work on commission) where you can see various other examples of historical photos that have been digitally colorized. This is without a doubt the best modern colorization I have ever seen. Marina’s skill really puts you there on the docks at this point in time.
I love these sorts of photos because they confound our expectations of what the past “should” look like. We’re so used to seeing grainy black-and-white photos from this period that when we see something like this–a scene from the past in vivid lifelike color–it demonstrates that the past was every bit as alive, vibrant and colorful as the present. Film directors can recreate scenes like this on movie sets, but it’s just not the same as seeing the real thing. I think this is utterly stunning and I thank Marina for permission to share this photo with you, and I look forward to presenting others on the Historical Photo series.