The intimacy of colour: Australian hand-coloured photos from the 70s

The 1970s saw a revival in hand-coloured photography in Australia, and the technique remains a significant aspect of the practice of many artists today. The hand-colouring of photographs enables an artist to personalize and individualize a print , as well as imbue it with warmth and intimacy.

Australian artists like Ruth Maddison, Miriam Stannage, Micky Allan and Robyn Stacey revived the technique of hand-colouring photographs. They were recently on show at the National Gallery of Australia in Sydney, as part of the Colour my world: hand-coloured Australian photography exhibition.

The hand-colouring of images goes back a long way in the history of photography. In the mid-19th Century, when photography was still a nascent art form, artists applied paint, dye or other media to black and white images. Hand-colouring would be used either to add aesthetic or economic value to an image, or to correct a photographic mistake. In the early 20th Century the practice declined as modernist artists sought greater technical purity.

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Photo credit: Ruth Maddison. Christmas holiday with Bob’s family, Mermaid Beach, Queensland 1977/78. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Purchased 1988.