Meet The Colorizer: Mads Madsen

Meet The Colorizer: Mads Madsen

If you are here, it is highly likely that you love to see old black and white photographs given life through the addition of color. It is easy to forget that colorizing images is no easy task, so it is important to acknowledge and thank those that are doing this difficult job for all of us to enjoy.

Today is the first installment of a new series called 'Meet the Colorizer' in which we profile and speak to a different person each time in order to find out more about things such as how and why they got into colorizing.

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Meet 23-year-old, Danish colorizer Mads Madsen. Also known as Zuzahin on Reddit, Mads has been colorizing old black and white photographs for over 7 year, creating the subreddit ColorizedHistory in 2013 which now has over 375,000 subscribers that check out work from a variety of different artists. In 2015, Mads produced a documentary for the History Channel called Blood and Glory: The Civil War in Color and has worked on pieces for companies such as The Daily Mail and The Evening Post.

Whilst Mads has earned money doing colorizations but unfortunately, it is not his full-time job (though he said that he would love that) and ultimately, his life has gone on a different path. Over the years, Mads has had a number of good commissions and is a great person to delve into due to his vast experience as a colorizer.

When and How did you get into Colorizing? 

It was pretty much just a fluke. I was, as a 16-year-old, browsing the internet on a Sunday afternoon, with nothing to do. I stumbled upon a website by the name of myvintagephotos.com, which is run by an elderly lady called Margaret A. Rogers who just enjoys hand coloring old photographs. I was absolutely blown away, and after a few hours of trawling through her website, saving every possible image, I decided "Hell, I can do this myself!" - so I did, and after almost 10 years of trial and error, I've gotten to a point where I think I'm half decent.

Why do you colorize old Black and White Photographs? 

It's for the fun of it. I'm a history nerd, and I just love reading the stories accompanied by the visual aid, it really helps bring home history for me, and if it has the same effect on other people, then that's even better!

What is your favorite period of history to Colorize?

 It has to be the American Civil War. The history is so rich, and it's so long ago that it still seems so foreign, yet it's at the definitive boom in photographic technology. Wetplates and Daguerreotypes came out right as the Civil War began, and as such, most of the photographs from the conflict are high-resolution photographs with incredible detail. 

I really love portraits, especially those by Alfred Eisenstaedt, as is the case with Ernest Hemingway (See colorization further below), and those by Mathew Brady, who probably took the Abbott photograph - both photographers had a way of bringing their subjects' personality to the portrait, and it always leaves me awestruck. 

This is a photograph of Joseph "Jo" Abbott, member of the 12th Regiment, Texas Cavalry in the United States Army that Mads colorized. As you can see, due to the high resolution of the original photograph, Mads is able to add a huge amount of detail that he wouldn't have been able to if the photograph was not at this quality. Jo Abbott became a member of Congress in Texas from 1887 until 1897.

This is a photograph of Joseph "Jo" Abbott, member of the 12th Regiment, Texas Cavalry in the United States Army that Mads colorized. As you can see, due to the high resolution of the original photograph, Mads is able to add a huge amount of detail that he wouldn't have been able to if the photograph was not at this quality. Jo Abbott became a member of Congress in Texas from 1887 until 1897.

What is your favorite period of History in general? 

I tend to lean towards either the 1960s or the 1770s, around the time of the American Revolution. Something about the Revolution just speaks to me, and I've read a lot of work on the conflict, it seems so cool to me. The 1960s is primarily because my dad grew up in that era, and has told me a lot of stories from then, so to me I had a pretty cool picture painted as a kid, and I naturally explored it myself when I began studying history. 

Have you got any tips for anybody starting out?

To not worry about your results. In the end you will find your way. In the first few years of me colorizing, the work I produced was not very good. What did help me improve was taking color photographs from the present day and turning them black-and-white, then trying to re-color them. When I was finished, I would compare results and see where I fell short, see why something looks the way it does, and then try and reproduce it. I'd also say to read books on realism painting, as it covers almost everything you need to know to build up color. Grass isn't just green, it's tinted by the atmosphere which carries with it different hues depending on the day and time and season, so it may be more bluish in the early morning, more orange/yellowish in the late afternoon, and in deep summer in Georgia it may look more sunkissed. 

These two images are what Mads Madsen considers some of his best work. To get to this skill level, it took Mads many years of research and learning so do not feel bad if your work is not at this level yet. There are not many people out there, if any, that are better than him.

What are your thoughts on the argument that the Colorization of Vintage Photographs is a bad thing?

 The argument has always been an easy one for me to dismiss, while there's obviously been a lot of very loud and very vocal critics, the argument itself simply doesn't hold water. The colorization of a black and white photograph stands alongside the original work as a comparison, or as a vastly different interpretation by whichever artist worked on it, not as a replacement. It's delivering a different view on the same artwork. 


It was a joy to find out more about one of the people behind many of the fantastic colorizations of vintage photographs, and if you wish to follow him and see his work as it comes out, be sure to check out his Facebook Page and Instagram account. Mads also has a personal Instagram account where he posts about fitness and weight loss and you can keep up to date on that @madsdahlmadsen. Also be sure to check out the subreddit founded by him, ColorizedHistory, to see new colorizations from some of the best out there.

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