A variety of subjects and locations have been chosen to illustrate this article. Most of these tints from the pre WW1 era are highly saturated.
Tinted photo postcard views of Sydney provide a window upon the past in a manner that is often striking to the modern eye. We are not used to viewing images of the past in colour. Especially the recent past just beyond living memory.
Tinting is the application of colour by hand to the image during the development process.
During the Golden Age of postcards (1900-1914) tinting was used in Sydney to produce a range of vibrant images, approximate visual reality and to differentiate postcard stock at retail outlets. During the pre WW1 postcard boom it provided employment opportunities in the many postcard companies that flourished in Sydney.
A practice of colouring evolved where horizons were always tinted in a warm colour to suggest either sunrise or sunset. A spot of red was often employed to draw attention to a figure and occasionally photographer’s assistants were employed to deliver foreground interest and human scale to the image. Warm and cool colours were used and examples of both colour approaches using an identical image do exist.
Tinted images were available in a variety of intensities. The more successful tints appear as light washes giving a rather de-saturated look to the image. A proficient colourist could select appropriate colours to wash onto the image in a way that made the result a convincing work by modern colour standards.
Often the tints used were applied with a strong view to colour accuracy. Excessive tinting resulted in a more “psychedelic” look. When intense colour was used a less realistic image resulted, odd especially to contemporary eyes. Images that have chemically decomposed usually result in unusual effects and make for more abstract impacts.
In many ways a well tinted image can be as effective as a modern colour photograph in conveying a sense of visual reality to a viewer. Colour images on cards in any form during this time were a rarity. The cards were small, portable “works of art” usually retailing for about 3d each. The equivalent of a tram fare from Bondi Beach to the City.
No two tints for an identical image are the same. Endless variations ensure that collectors are often confronted with difficult choices whenever they buy examples ! Tinting was done on a production line basis and often young women were employed to perform the task. The mass production method used makes finding quality examples all the more surprising.
The work of tinting staff or colourists is evidenced by the following comments of a Harrington’s staffer (A Moore) in a c1907 card to friends in NZ :
“I am at present engaged at Harringtons as colourist. We colour these cards at 3 shillings a gross. Of course the firm make a big profit on this again. We do all sort of cards, scenic, animal, flowers, actresses and child studies. Private cabinet photos are charged at the rate of 6d each wholesale. But I think I could do them cheaper than that. Although quantity has a great deal to do with the prices. I average about 170 post cards a day, but sometimes they are very greasy, and will not hold the colour at all.”
The words of this colourist suggest that firms employing say 10 experienced staff could produce up to 10,000 images per week. (ie 170 per day per employee for a 6 day week).