Interview with Frank Hellsten

Frank Hellsten
Frank Hellsten has made a big splash recently on Facebook with his colorized sailing and boating photos from Helsinki. The photos data back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the colorized pictures, the maritime character of Helsinki really shines through and history reveals itself in color like never before. Sail in Finland got the permission to publish some of Frank’s works (you can find them here) and I took the opportunity to interview Frank about his hobby.

Sail in Finland (SiF): Thanks for letting Sail in Finland publish some of your work. How did you get interested in colorizing old photos
Frank Hellsten (FH) :  I am a great admirer of the early photography pioneers, who often made incredibly beautiful black and white images with the primitive cameras of that time. When I colorize their images (and I always credit the original) it is not with the intention to “improve” them, but to bring to life the history shown in the photo which has been black-and-white because of technology limitations.

The head of the Swedish Maritime Museum, Hans-Lennart Ohlsson, recently wrote this when he commented on my pictures: “… we did an exhibition of ship portraits at the Maritime Museum. We discovered how colorful the shipping was. The color era ended when photography took over and stayed black-and-white until the 1940’s”

SiF: And why pictures from Helsinki (which of course Sail in Finland thinks is a brilliant idea)?
FH: I have lived much of my life in Helsinki. The maritime Helsinki has always been close to my heart. The Helsinki City Museum’s collection of historical photographs is freely available provided that you mention the source and take into account any copyright issues.

SiF: How you choose the photos to work on?
FH:  I choose photes where the subject matter interest me and which are of good enough technical quality that they are suitable for colorization.

Frank Hellsten example NJK Blekholmen Klippan

Example of Frank’s workflow, original and colorized photo. Example photo from the Helsinki City Museum collections (N202129).

SiF: Can you share a bit how you do the colorization? What software do you use?
FH: My software resources are modest. I have an old computer and an old version of the Lightroom program. The rest is purely craftsmanship – each color and color shade is transferred to the image using the mouse. Images that require lots of color (bits) are often difficult to color because of my poor technical resources, but I try to make them as good as possible.

SiF: How do you choose the colors for the pictures?
FH: I don’t have the opportunity to visit museums or check with experts to always get the “right” colors. The fact that I lived for a long time in Helsinki helps, of course, but ultimately I choose such colors that I think fit.

SiF: I know you share your work on Facebook (in the Swedish Facebook group “Vi som älskar träbåtar!“), I hope we are going to see many more pictures by you in the future! Thanks you for the interview and for sharing your work.
FH: My pleasure. I am very grateful to you for showing some of my colorized images!

Original from the Helsinki city museum collections licensed under CC BY 4.0.