By Mike Nelson, Special to The Star
Since 1972, color television sets have annually outsold black-and-white sets in the United States. That means more than half the current U.S. population — those in their early 40s or younger — have known color television as the norm.
For David and Sheryl Chrenko, the owners of American Colorizing in Ventura, it means there is a market for the colorization of vintage black-and-white photos that can provide a deeper, more meaningful connection to history.
“What we offer is a complement to black-and-white,” said David Chrenko, the “colorist” who has combined his passions for history and art through American Colorizing.
“I love black-and-white, and I don’t want to get rid of it,” he continued with a smile. “But we don’t live in a black-and-white world. When you add color, you see details in a photo — the time on a clock, for example, or the writing on a sign — that in black-and-white you would probably not even notice, or be able to see clearly. And the people in the photos no longer are ghosts from yesterday; they’re people who could be alive today, because they look more real.”
Established on December 1, 2001, American Colorizing over the past decade has engaged in projects for museums, websites, television documentaries and private individuals.
The company recently launched a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to support colorization projects at underfunded museums. Although initial response to the monthlong effort (which concluded March 16) fell short of its $5,000 goal, the Chrenkos believe the campaign ultimately will bring a greater awareness to the benefits of colorization.
“When we colorize these historical photos, it really brings history to life,” said Sheryl Chrenko, who oversees marketing. “People look at the photos and say, ‘I could be in that picture. Those are people I can relate to.’ ” ART BACKGROUND
That was one purpose of “Blood and Glory: The Civil War in Color,” History Channel’s miniseries that aired in 2015. American Colorization was part of the team that colorized 500 photos from the era. Each, said David Chrenko, took “hours of work,” including extensive research that, as a history buff growing up in New Jersey, “was right up my alley.”
A Southern California resident since 1974, he studied art and worked in graphic design (at Bomp Magazine and the Bomp music label, which helped promote punk, garage and new wave rock), in radio advertising and production, and for Boeing Aircraft.
After he married Sheryl, a Ventura native, in 2000, his career took a life-changing turn in 2001 when friends asked the Chrenkos to housesit, and invited them to explore their home computer’s new colorizing program.
“I basically taught myself how to colorize,” David Chrenko said.
Having once imagined what old black-and-white family photos would look like in color and armed with his new “toy” and passion, he began colorizing photos for friends, featured them on a “bare-bones” website, and “eventually we were noticed. By 2011, our site was No. 1 on Google for colorizing photos.”
One project led to another. In 2012, the Chrenkos created colorized photos for Ancestry.com’s “Wall of Heroes” photo sweepstakes. A year later, they were commissioned by the Royal Alberta Museum in Canada to colorize photos for its yearlong exhibit on Chinese restaurants in western Canada.
“They told us their foot traffic increased 68 percent the first week after people saw our work,” David Chrenko said.
Now, with “Blood and Glory” on their resume, as well, the Chrenkos are marketing their services to museums, documentary producers and prospective clients such as cities and organizations planning commemorative celebrations.
“That’s why we tried the Kickstarter campaign to support museums,” David Chrenko said. “Most museums are underfunded and have to make hard choices on where to spend their limited resources. Not all of them may want colorized photos, but many do, or are intrigued by the idea, and we’d like to make it easier for them.”
The Kickstarter campaign was promoted through social media.
“It’s a step in the process toward tapping into the interest in this area which we know exists.” Sheryl Chrenko added. GETTING IT RIGHT
The biggest challenge of the colorizing process, David Chrenko said, is “making the color real, even though you figure that the colors of sky, grass, clouds haven’t changed too much over the years. But when you have a photo with a lot of buildings, or a lot of faces, getting the tones right isn’t easy.”
Added his wife: “But Dave really researches the era he’s working on. He’ll look up advertisements from that era, newspaper articles, books to get information on color, so he can capture it accurately.”
And it can take hours to find exactly the right hue.
“I am very detail-oriented and I love to research,” David Chrenko said. “We did a colorizing project with black-and-white photos of postwar Berlin, with brick buildings damaged by bombs and fire. It makes you think, ‘How does brick look when it’s been burned?’ You have to research.”
And pay attention. In colorizing a Civil War-era photo of President Abraham Lincoln meeting outside with Gen. George McClellan, he made the tree leaves green, before realizing the photo was taken in November.
“So I made the change to fall colors,” he said with a smile. “It’s part of the process.”
Nor does he profess 100 percent accuracy with each photo.
“My main object,” he said, “is to make the photo more real for people to see, to provoke an emotional as well as aesthetic response.”
In the process, he hopes to “make history cool” for everyone, especially youths who aren’t as enthralled as he about the past.
“Kids who have to study history appreciate it more when they relate to people in the photographs they see, especially when those photos are in color, something they know,” David Chrenko said. “If we can connect people to history through our work, we’ve done our job.”