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  • Tom Marshall

The Faces That Became America

These incredible images were taken during the early years of the 20th century, by Augustus Sherman, an amateur photographer who worked as the chief registry clerk on Ellis Island from 1892 until 1925.

Ellis island was the gateway to the USA, with over 12 million immigrants passing through to start a new life in America between 1892 and 1954.

I was asked by The Vintage News to colourise a selection of these images, in order to bring the subjects 'to life', as often only colour photos can. This project was very different for me, and was an eye opener as someone who tends to colourise figures in western dress. I'm used to figures from 1910 wearing various shades of grey, green and brown, with the occasional muted blue or red to add a little flavour. The bright colours of the various forms of national dress proved an interesting challenge.

It has also been interesting to look at the history of the USA, and the impact of immigration from all these different countries. As much as I would like to, I try not to get into politics on my blog, but with a high profile election taking place in the USA, and our own recent EU referendum in the UK, it's hard not to draw parallels between these photos and the current climate.

For me, these photos hint at America's history as a melting pot of all creeds, colours and nationalities, and I'd like to think it's a pretty strong argument that those set against immigration (both in the USA and the UK) need to remember that, if you go back far enough everybody's ancestors were immigrants somewhere.

These photos were taken over 100 years ago now, and what a colourful place the world was, and still is.

A Hindu boy, 1911. The caption is taken from the original photo, I'm unsure what country he was travelling from.

A Danish man, c1909.

An Algerian man.

Rev. Joseph Vasilon, Greek-Orthodox Priest, c1910

A girl from Alsace-Lorraine, 1906. Alsace-Lorraine was part of Germany at the time, but since WW1 has been part of France.

A Romanian piper in a sheepskin cloak, c1910

Two children (likely brother and sister) from Lapland. The colours for this photo were mostly guesswork, based on similar dress of the time from other Scandinavian countries. Note the small love heart necklace the girl is wearing, c1910

An Italian woman, c1910

All original images © Augustus Francis Sherman / From The New York Public Library

Colourised images © Tom Marshall (PhotograFix) 2016

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