Friday, 07 October 2016 08:33

100-year-old portraits of Ellis Island immigrants in glorious fashions from around the world

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100-year-old portraits of Ellis Island immigrants in glorious fashions from around the world


Between 1892 and 1954, thousands of immigrants to the United States passed through the Ellis Island inspection station south of Manhattan, in view of the Statue of Liberty. Each had their legal documents and health examined and a photo taken to record their entry. Many of their images were also dutifully recorded by an amateur photographer and chief registry clerk named Augustus Francis Sherman, who worked at the station until 1925.


Shermans images have been brought back to life by Jordan Lloyd at Dynamichrome, a studio based in London, by colorizing the photos based on available historical research. Although these immigrants were sporting early 20th century national costumes, they look as if their pictures were taken just yesterday, with film. Dynamichromes attention to detail makes the portraits seem exceptionally realistic. The photos will be published in The Paper Time Machine, a photo book Lloyd is currently trying to crowd fund.


We cannot really guarantee historical accuracy, the fact of the matter is we werent there when the photographs were taken, Lloyd tells Quartz. Most clothing at the time was made at home, before mass manufactured fashion became common, so details could only be guessed at. Accurately rendering colors was also difficult, as film chemicals didnt always show colors the way theyd be seen by the human eye. The colorization therefore was more for an authentic flavor, or a sense of historical authenticity, rather than accuracy, Lloyd says.


Still, details of the apparel indicate the cultural and socio-economic background of the person. Although the photos could be taken as an anthropological study of early 20th century fashion around the world, Lloyd notes that they dont convey the reality of these immigrants.


These people are wearing literally their Sunday best, this is not what they were wearing when they came off the boat at Ellis Island, he says. This was maybe clothes that they put in a suitcase, and Sherman maybe might have said to them, Look, you were from this particular region that no one really knows about, I would very much like you to sit for a portrait in your national costume.


Ellis Island was a gateway to new lives on new soil. Photos of the people who passed through it provide us with a glimpse into some of the least known cultures at the time, long before cameras became ubiquitous in even the most remote corners of the world.

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