See Historic Saratoga Like You’ve Never Seen it Before

If you spent any amount of time perusing the Capital Region’s small corner of Facebook this past winter, there’s a good chance you came across the work of photographer John Bulmer. But while the Mechanicville resident is certainly skilled behind a camera, it’s the work he’s done in front of a computer that’s gone local-viral.

In his free time, Bulmer has taken up the fine art of colorizing historic images from around the Capital Region (with a clear penchant for Saratoga’s bygone grand dame hotels, elegantly clad tourists and sweeping streetscapes)—not for profit, but as somewhat of a public service. “We’re so conditioned to see things in color that when you see things in black and white, there’s kind of a disconnect,” Bulmer says. “It speaks to the past. But when I color these things and throw in some atmospheric light and some haze, people tend to connect with them in a more visceral way.” In fact, Bulmer has been contacted by people who have recognized family members in his colorized photos, including one from 1960 of then-senator John F. Kennedy speaking in Bulmer’s native Troy. Other fans of his work have sent in their own black-and-white family photos for Bulmer to restore. “When they get them back, they haven’t seen their loved one in color in forever, and it’s really moving,” he says. “It’s like, wow, I just gave this person back this memory.”

How does he do it? Despite the rise in online tools that utilize artificial intelligence to create or manipulate photos, Bulmer’s process is actually quite work-intensive. He’ll choose an image, then use Photoshop to restore some detail. From there, he moves the file into Procreate, a digital painting iPad application, to actually color the image by hand, utilizing “layers” and blending methods to make the photo look like it was taken this year. He says he’s gotten pretty good at telling what color an object in a black-and-white photo is based on the shade of black, but there is definitely some creative license involved; for instance, exactly 50 percent gray could either mean black or red, and it’s up to Bulmer to decide which color to use.

Not only have Bulmer’s photos changed the way locals think about the past, but they’ve also changed the way Bulmer himself experiences the present. “I can’t walk down Broadway now and not imagine these gigantic wooden structures on the side of Broadway,” he says, referencing photographs he’s restored of Saratoga’s historic hotels. “It’s impossible not to do a comparison or say, ‘Oh, that’s where the United States Hotel was.’ It’s fascinating to see how it evolved from then until now.”

Find more of Bulmer’s colorization work at facebook.com/john.bulmer.

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