Janine Kilroe: Artist & Photographer

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A brief history of hand-colouring

Since the very first days of primitive monochrome photography, people have attempted to add colour by hand, to enhance the image. The first images were daguerreotypes, invented in 1839. It is thought that the first person to hand colour these with a mixture of gum arabic and pigments was a Swiss painter and printmaker called Johann Baptist Isenring, but many others followed.

Originally, they wanted to make the image as realistic as possible and hand-colouring was the easiest way to achieve this. Techniques and materials varied in different parts of the world. Usually watercolours, oils, crayons or pastels, and other paints or dyes were applied to the image surface using brushes, fingers, cotton swabs or airbrushes.

Janine has recently found this wonderful portrait of her uncle, her maternal grandmother and her mother. It has not seen the light of day for over 70 years, as it was never displayed and has been forgotten in an attic for many years, which has helped to preserve the colours. It is of exceptionally high quality and would have been very expensive. If anyone reading this has any knowledge of who might have painted it, Janine would be very interested to know more about it's origins, so please get in touch. She believes it was probably created in Preston, Lancashire, possibly by Frederick J Ball of 143 Friargate, Preston (known as Fredericks of Preston). Janine explains, "My parents had all their photography done there, but that signature on the picture is not seen on any other photographs I have. It would be dated around 1941, when my mother would have been nine or ten years old. The fact that it is still in pristine condition is a strong testament to the fine craftsmanship and the lasting power and impact of the art of hand coloured photographs at its best.”

By the 1860s, hand-coloured photographs were a well respected and very popular art form in Japan, pioneered by artists such as Yokoyama Matsusaburō - a painter, lithographer and photographer. He combined these skills to create what he described as "photographic oil paintings", in which the paper support of a photograph was cut away and oil paints then applied to the remaining emulsion.

One great advantage of hand coloured photographs is that they have a long shelf life - the pigments used have great permanence, and this archival quality has always played an important part in their popularity.

However, in the mid-20th century in the USA, Kodak introduced Kodachrome colour film, enabling the world to enjoy full-colour photographic images for the first time.

In the wake of this momentous breakthrough, hand-colouring was a neglected and largely obsolete skill for many years, until a few enlightened people such as Janine Kilroe discovered that colouring monochrome pictures by hand enabled them to add a creative, personal, artistic dimension to the image that no mechanical process could achieve.

Janine's hand-coloured pictures have a luminous, ethereal quality that could not be replicated any other way. They have to be seen to be appreciated, as no reproduction does them justice.


Infrared photography

Janine was introduced to the possibilities involved in using Infrared film when she was a photographic student.

She recalls, “There was an ‘other worldliness’ that infrared revealed to me, and I became quite fascinated by this. I was also really challenged by the technical difficulty using Infrared film posed. For example, you could only load and unload the film in total darkness. You had to wind the film on carefully to try and prevent static building up which would show on the film. Then there was the need to manually adjust the focus. I will never forget the excitement of waiting to see if I had anything worth printing at the end of all this!”

According to the excellent website, Digital Photography For What It's Worth, our senses strongly shape our understanding of the world but they sample only small slices of the reality around us. What might we learn and think and feel if we could hear beyond 20-20,000 Hz, as our dogs do, or see beyond the narrow visible light band at 400-700?

According to Wikipedia, in infrared photography, the film or image sensor used is sensitive to infrared light. The part of the spectrum used is referred to as near-infrared to distinguish it from far-infrared, which is the domain of thermal imaging. Wavelengths used for photography range from about 700 nm to about 900 nm. Film is usually sensitive to visible light too, so an infrared-passing filter is used; this lets infrared (IR) light pass through to the camera, but blocks all or most of the visible light spectrum (the filter thus looks black or deep red). "Infrared filter" may refer either to such a filter or to one that blocks infrared but passes other wavelengths.

When these filters are used together with infrared-sensitive film or sensors, very interesting "in-camera effects" can be obtained; false-colour or black-and-white images with a dreamlike appearance an effect mainly caused by foliage, such as tree leaves and grass, strongly reflecting in the same way visible light is reflected from snow. There is a small contribution from chlorophyll fluorescence, but this is marginal and is not the real cause of the brightness seen in infrared photographs.

The other attributes of infrared photographs include very dark skies and penetration of atmospheric haze, caused by reduced Rayleigh scattering and Mie scattering, respectively, compared to visible light. The dark skies, in turn, result in less infrared light in shadows and dark reflections of those skies from water, and clouds will stand out strongly. These wavelengths also penetrate a few millimetres into skin and give a milky look to portraits, although eyes often look black.


Janine explains how she developed her technique of hand-colouring infrared photographs:
“I wanted to use my photography to create artwork that would be truly unique. My aim was to create one off originals that would last for many years, so it was important to use only archival materials wherever possible. I had long admired some of the hand-coloured photography of the early 19th century such as Adolfo Farsari.

When I was at college studying photography, I experimented with hand colouring but I always felt frustrated with the materials available at the time. The finished work never looked natural.

In 2011 I had a big idea – what would happen if I printed my images directly onto Fine Art Archival papers? After trying out a couple of other makes of paper and pencils I discovered St Cuthbert’s, a British paper manufacturer. I also discovered Derwent Water Colour PencilsDerwent Inktense Pencil and Derwent Graphitint Pencils perfectly complementing my paper choices.

With the combination of the right paper and pencils, both made in Britain, I have finally achieved the very natural hand selective colouring effects I was after. This is the icing on the cake for my photography, and totally releases my images from their photographic constraints.”

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