Punk rock’s classic era is a little like World War II: It was a violent, tumultuous chapter of history that is often romanticized today. Due to some iconic images, people may think of it as happening in black and white. Ulf Hammarkärr, a graphic designer from Sweden, is helping to change that last part, one image at a time. On his Instagram account, he’s been digitally colorizing vintage photos of the punk and hardcore scenes, concert pics mostly but also staged and candid photos of the musicians themselves, including Minor Threat and Youth Of Today. Noisey’s Dan Ozzi recently spoke with Hammarkärr to find out how and why he’s been doing this. For the artist, this project seems to be about taking images from the past and making them appear alive again.
Some people have told me that seeing the photos in color have made them realize that it’s actually stuff that happened and not just historical images of something that’s been very romanticized and idolized. I think that’s very much a question of generation. I’m 28 years old, so I’ve never had a black and white TV; I’ve always seen stuff in color.
Hammarkärr’s process both modernizes and demystifies the images. The members of Minor Threa are deprived of godlike status and rendered as mere mortals. This image also show’s the artist’s attention to detail. When he was informed that Ian MacKaye’s Vans were, in fact, red at this photo shoot, Hammarkärr dutifully updated the picture.
Although the punk and hardcore stuff is Hammarkärr’s specialty, it’s not all he does. His account includes colorized images of such celebrities as Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Muhammad Ali as well. He’s even spruced up some family photos, not that his relatives seem too terribly enthusiastic about it. As he tells Ozzi: “I’ve been colorizing old photos for my parents, and while they think it’s cool, to them it’s not the same thing. They have another relationship with black and white photography.”