Some moments in time deserve to be preserved forever. They need to be immortalised in print, the beauty of black and white and aging sepia lending it austerity. Because part of what makes these pictures iconic is the magic that they achieved in their original form.
But what if you had the choice to bring life to a moment in time by actually adding colour to a moment gone by ? What if, much as in the Harry Potter series, pictures could be more than just a single frame in time ?
While we are still awhile away from that technology, the fact is that, colour does change everything and it does add it’s own life to moments gone by. It can be personal moments – the photo of our parents wedding, a cherished picture of our grandparents or just the ancestral ‘group photo’ of the past generations. It could be moments in history that bring out sincere emotions – Kennedy’s last ride, Gandhi’s salt satyagraha, Martin Luther King as he gave his historic speech, the screaming Vietnamese child running towards the camera following a napalm attack. These are moments in time that we have been lucky to capture forever as a picture.
But sadly, most of these iconic black and white moments are also moments of tragedy as the advent of the camera coincided with a major power struggle across the globe and many suffering for the needs of others. So, if you asked me to convert black and white to colour, to bring life to a moment in time, which frame would I choose ?
I wouldn’t go for a personal moment because that would be meant for me alone. Instead, I would choose a picture that, in the middle of so much loss in the early part of the last century, represented joy and happiness to a world waiting for hope that day.
I choose the picture of the young American sailor kissing a random nurse in Times Square on V-J day ( Victory over Japan, also considered the end of World War 2 ) on August 1945. It was a moment of unconditional happiness for everyone across the world and yet, there was so many layers of hidden depth to it.
The faces of the two are not revealed, adding to the mystery of the moment. It allowed everyone to enjoy the moment without restricting it to two faces. Indeed, as decades passed by, many a nurse and sailor came forward claiming to be the duo before eventually the two were identified more than 30 years later. The photographer himself famously described the sailor as being so happy and just running around kissing everyone from grandmothers to well, obviously, young nurses.
The sheer happiness of two professions, both brought into the middle of war without having a say in it, now free from the fear and pain of the war is visible not just in these two but also in those walking past them smiling as well. This wasn’t a football team winning a World Cup. This wasn’t a family member getting married. This was the declaration of the end of the worst World War mankind had ever known.
So what would colour bring to this moment ? Life. And just enough of it without converting it into a random moment. The sailor remains in black, the nurse’s white uniform retains its contrast to the sailor’s uniform. But all around, life appears with colour. It stops becoming a moment from the past and becomes something we can relate to even today. A moment of pure emotion that we can relive. A moment of serenity amidst unbridled joy as we once more live in a world, lost in the fear and pain of wars gone by and many more to come.