April 23, 2021

Colorizer Brings Back to Life Portraits of Immigrants Taken on Ellis Island Over 100 Years Ago

Photography is the best tool that can take us back in a certain period of time and teach us about history. The pictures below take us back to the early 1900s, on Ellis Island which served as the United State’s largest immigration station, processing up to 12 million immigrants from 1892 to 1954.

Each of these immigrants was paired with their legal documents, were health examined, and a photo taken to record their entry into the country. Many of these images were taken by an amateur photographer named Augustus Francis Sherman, who worked at the station until 1925. As it’s known he asked the people to wear their traditional finest clothes as a background of where they came from.

This collection looks so culturally diverse with people coming from all over the world e to the American land seeking a better life, which you can tell by their outfits that include military uniforms from Albania, bonnets from the Netherlands, clothing of Sámi people from the Arctic region and many more.

These stunning portraits, originally published in National Geographic in 1907, have now been brought back to life and colorized by Jordan Lloyd of Dynamichrome. Lloyd’s technique includes historical research for accuracy, as well as retouching at an expert level.

Earthwonders got in touch with Lloyd for more details on why he choose to work on this project.

“These public domain black and white photographs by Sherman are kept by the New York Public Library. Whilst the initial set was colorized for my first book, History As They Saw It. I think there is an ongoing public appeal, because, for many Americans (and descendants of any immigrant), there’s a story that people can relate to: these are people’s grandparents or great grandparents putting everything on the line to seek out a better life with better opportunities. How many countries have prospered by hard-working immigrants setting up their own businesses, I wonder? Americans also have an almost unique desire to find out about their lineage and the cultures of their ancestors, and I think these photographs represent that point on the precipice between the past and the future,” explains Lloyd for Earthwonders, “To this day I still receive emails and messages from folks who want to find out more about the people in the photographs: I even had one lady get in touch because she bore a striking resemblance to the Ruthenian woman. To me, the ongoing interest indicates to me that these personal histories entwined with greater migratory movements are really important to a country’s cultural fabric.”

Knowing the fact that these pictures were just black and white, without a slight of information of who the characters are, or where they come from, Lloyd had to work with a socio-ethnographic dress specialist to get more details as accurate as possible in order to keep the authentic representation of that person.

“Clothing is a very challenging topic for any historian, let among any colorizer because people’s clothing says so much about them and the society they inhabited at that point in time. These portraits in particular were migrants literally stepping off the boat in the immigration center: they had their traditional dress stashed away in suitcases and trunks or were even wearing them as they entered the immigration center. I was lucky to collaborate with a socio-ethnographic dress specialist to get many of the details as accurate as possible, and it meant a lot of emails and references. The goal with the photographs is to attain an authentic representation of that person as they were being captured by Sherman at the time: colors may represent a particular region. A headdress or jewelry may indicate the marital status or religious beliefs. It is in effect, a microcosm of an entire culture contained within a few items of clothing. Every single image needed many examples of clothing of that period and region in order to achieve an authentic result.”- explained Lloyd.

A Dutch woman circa 1910 wearing a large bonnet, one of the most recognizable aspects of Dutch traditional dress. It was usually made of white cotton or lace and sometimes had flaps or wings, and often came with a cap.

Albanian soldier circa 1910 in a brimless felt cap is known as a qeleshe, whose shape was largely determined by region and molded to one’s head. His vest, known as Jelek or Xhamadan, is decorated with embroidered braids of silk or cotton; its color and decoration denote the region where the wearer is from and his social rank.

A Cossack man – most likely from the Ussuri Cossack host – characterized by his papakha, the lamb wool hat and the green cherkesska coat accented in yellow. The coat features a number of pouches to house gazyri, traditionally metal powder tubes for early firearms.

An Alsace-Lorraine girl circa 1906 hailing from the Germanic speaking region of Alsace, which is in modern day France. The large bow, known as a schlupfkàpp, was worn by single women. The bows signified the bearer’s religion: black for Protestants, while Catholics favored brightly colored bows.

A Hindu boy circa 1911 wearing a cap – known as a topi and popular among Muslim communities – and a handspun prayer shawl.

A Romanian shepherd circa 1906 wearing a traditional shepherd’s cloak known as sarică, made from three or four sheepskins sewn together with the fleece facing outward. The garment was generally extended to below the knee and could be used as a pillow when sleeping outdoors.

A Ruthenian woman circa 1906 from the region historically inhabiting the kingdom of the Rus, incorporating parts of modern-day Slavic-speaking countries. Her outfit consists of a shirt and underskirt made from linen embroidered with traditional floral-based patterns.

A Bavarian man circa 1910 dressed in the leather breeches of the alpine regions of Germany, known as Lederhosen, and a wool jacket with horn buttons.

A Guadeloupean woman circa 1911 wearing traditional costume, including an elaborate tartan headpiece that can be traced to the Middle Ages.

The Rev Joseph Vasilon, a Greek Orthodox priest circa 1910, wearing an ankle-length cassock and a stiff cylindrical hat called a kalimavkion, worn during services.

A Danish man circa 1909 wearing a wool jacket with silver buttons indicating his wealth and origin.

A Romanian piper circa 1910 wearing an embroidered sleeved sheepskin coat.

A Norwegian woman wearing a traditional dress with a hair covering to indicate her marital status.

A Laplander circa 1910 wearing the traditional costume of the Sami people inhabiting the arctic regions spanning from northern Norway to the Kola peninsula in Russia.

An Algerian man circa 1910 wearing a kaftan tunic and a kufiya, which is a square of fabric folded into a triangle and held upon the head by a circlet of camel hair.

An Italian woman, circa 1910. This long, homespun dress would have covered her ankles, with the top tied in a way to expose a portion of the blouse. The materials would have been regional, with shawls and veils a common feature.