Photo Corners

A   S C R A P B O O K   O F   S O L U T I O N S   F O R   T H E   P H O T O G R A P H E R

Enhancing the enjoyment of taking pictures with news that matters, features that entertain and images that delight. Published frequently.

A Colorized Portrait Redefines Machado de Assis Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

15 June 2019

Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, who lived from 1839 to 1908, is among Brazil's most revered authors, comparable to Flaubert, Kafka, Henry James and other literary lights. But recently the mixed-raced writer, who lived in the age of black-and-white photographs, has had his portrait colorized.

Shannon Sims tells the tale in In Brazil, a New Rendering of a Literary Giant Makes Waves.

But briefly, the São Paulo office of the advertising agency Grey and São Paulo's University Zumbi dos Palmares collaborated on a colorized version of Machado de Assis's photo that intentionally portrays him with darker skin.

Profile. Another view.

The two images beg the question of which is more accurate: the light one or the dark one?

The light one appears overexposed, especially when you study what we take to be the black necktie that appears in his other photos.

But the dark one is a bit too seductive in its expert retouching. It almost reminds us of FaceApp, which can swap the gender of any photo uploaded to it.

There were, Sims points out, reasons for Machado de Assis's publisher to want him to appear white. "He would have never been taken seriously and never achieved commercial success if people had known his true racial identity. He would have been a failure if he had been known as black," according to Adriano Matos, chief creative officer at Grey.


I framed
a photo of you
here in this living room:
sitting in the red
you look up from your book
as if caught unaware

At that time of day
when the light slants
and the colors
fall into themselves
you look
like yourself.

-- Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis

But others don't find the new portrait accurate either.

"The real Machado de Assis was not a black man but mixed. Portraying him otherwise misses the duality and in-between experience he had as a biracial man," points out G. Reginald Daniel, a sociology professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

We thought we'd investigate by knocking the new image back to monochrome and seeing if lightening it could approach the original black-and-white.

See for yourself, but the monochrome version of the colorized portrait is significantly darker than even a lightened version of it. So the original is either too light to be real (consider his tie) or the colorized version too dark to be accurate.

It's impossible to know, of course, which is more accurate. But neither seem to have hit the nail on the head. As his profile seems to suggest.

Maybe we should let the celebrated author have the last word. In the poem quoted above, he wrote, "At that time of day when the light slants and the colors fall into themselves, you look like yourself."

BackBack to Photo Corners