Friday, September 26, 2014

Beam Releases Historic, Enhanced Photographs

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.


Anonymous said...

The most petty thing I have read on this blog. Please stick to whiskey, leave art philosophy to art philosophers.

Sam Komlenic said...

As someone who enjoys delving into distillery history, it's interesting to know that Beam is trying to preserve and archive their own, albeit in an enhanced manner, but who can blame them? The result looks better than the original.

And yes, a camera can shoot a photo unaided, but it certainly can't compose the shot, so there's no art involved with the camera itself, only with the photographer and their handling of said camera.

And after weeks of little else but whiskey-oriented posts and comments here at the CCB, someone actually has the balls to complain about a single non-whiskey post. And so it goes...

Unknown said...

That first comment was very petty. History is history, art included. Thank you for sharing it all with us Chuck.

Harry said...

Thanks, Chuck. The practice of tinting B&W photos goes back to the 1800s, and art history persons can get doctorates in photo conservation. Glad to see JB is using state-of-the-art restoration techniques. It would be a shame if that all got shuffled off into a corner. At least they didn't move the buildings like the Nat'l Geo Mag moved the great pyramids so all three would fit on the cover. Keep the history coming.

Anonymous said...

Ooooooo, 1965 photos in black and white , wow, that's really old and historic. Wasn't that a whole 4 years before we landed on they moon ? Let me guess, these antique photos were "hand retouched" so we could see them in living color, The next thing you know one of these bio bourbon factories is going to find a whole storehouse of "old hand written labels".

When mechaninized giant mega producers in any industry resort to pulling out old photos, you've got to believe there feeling the pressure.

Anonymous said...

The photo does not look like new construction. The buildings look old. Also there is steam or smoke rising from the still house which makes me believe that this is an operational photo, not a construction photo. What more can you tell us about it or can you refer us somewhere to read more about it?

Chuck Cowdery said...

The distillery was probably 'under construction' for several years. For example, you keep needing more warehouses as you keep producing. While I wouldn't say 'old,' the buildings are old enough to have the black fungus on them, but that could appear in a few months. As for more info, Beam released only very limited information about them and may not know much more. You can try contacting them through their web site.

Tmckenzie said...

Just got to read the comments here. What a shame. A guy above called Beam a mechanized giant mega producer. My aren't you petty. Feeling the pressure. You must be a micro distiller. I dont know you but there is more craft in those big distilleries than in 95 percent of the micros. My hats off to Beam for doing this. Hey, they make good bourbon too. Don't critize the big boys, learn what you can from them. After all, they know that stuff and have been doing it for say 200 years or so.