We've talked a lot here recently about what's real and what's not. The picture above is both.
Beam is celebrating Jim Beam's sesquicentennial right now (i.e., his 150th birthday was September 18th). This is a rare photograph of the distillery at Clermont under construction, presumably in 1934 or thereabouts. The smokestack on the right tells me that building houses the boiler. The cupola on the building to the left tells me that's the stillhouse. With that and the old vehicles and construction debris in the foreground, it's a great image.
Only it's not the real photograph. This is.
As part of Jim Beam's birthday celebration, the company has had some of its historic photographs digitally enhanced. Mostly that means colorizing but this one was also straightened.
Jim Beam says it is the first consumer brand to partner with Dynamichrome, a UK-based service that specializes in high fidelity color restoration in culture, history and entertainment. Dynamichrome has previously worked with the Imperial War Museum's World War I extension and the Indian Motorcycle Company to digitally reconstruct and colorize black and white photographs.
I have no real problem with this. The images are great, you just have to remember they're not real. In this photograph the colors are almost certainly correct, but in some of the others showing people, the color of their clothing is largely a guess. To go way philosophical on you, no photograph is real. It's a creation, an artifice, i.e., art, because someone decided what to shoot, how to shoot it, and when to shoot it.
Then again, there is another whole school that says photography isn't art because it merely mimics life. As proof, they point out that a camera can be programmed to take a photograph by itself, with no human intervention.
With these Beam photographs -- seven were released this week -- the subjects are historical. We want the pictures to be as accurate as possible because we want to learn from them. Does it matter if Jim Beam's suit is gray or brown? Probably not. When you consider what's possible today with photo manipulation software, it's a wonder we believe anything is real.
So, really and truly, I'm glad they did this to the pictures. I'm enjoying them and I really don't think they're leading us to ruin.