Colorization is not without its challenges, of course. Every artist approaches the same historic photograph differently, and it’s easy to get it wrong. There’s also the danger that some viewers will mistake the color version as an original source. But the museum trusted Amaral to approach it sensitively. “It’s always a risk,” Sawicki explained, “but the fact that Marina agreed to always show the black-and-white image, add the historical information we give, and listen to our comments and advice is very valuable here.”
The process is complex and emotionally taxing. Every few weeks, the museum emails Amaral a batch of randomly selected images with matching registration cards detailing hair and eye color, death certificates, and other records she uses to piece together their story. She researches the colors of the uniforms and patches—project historian Dr. Waitman Beorn helps with that—and studies the subtle shading of skin, eyes, and hair. Finally, in Photoshop, Amaral begins coloring, starting with the prisoner’s identifying patch. It takes an hour or so to build up 15 layers. “I feel exhausted after I finish,” she said.