Jordan J. Lloyd

April 7, 2021

🇺🇸 Towards Los Angeles, 1937

Original negative nitrate by Dorothea Lange, colorized by me. Taken March, 1937, California, United States (Library of Congress)

I've wanted to colorize this iconic shot by Dorothea Lange for a very long time. One of the few limitations of public archives is sometimes you don't have access to the best quality version of the original.


In this case, the high resolution scan was taken from a reproduction of the original negative, and much of the detail had been obliterated in the darker areas. Looking at another copy of the original negative privately owned by the MoMA by contrast, there's a huge difference in quality.

So, I waited for about eight years.

Approaching the photograph this time round, I now had a workflow I've developed over the years combining my restoration tools with AI to be able to enlarge and sharpen the public domain image sufficiently. Next, I then used another negative from the same roll where the men are further down the road, and I was able to composite the detail from the alternative shot into the public domain reproduction.




The final result is an image that isn't quite as good as MoMA's and grainier to match the public domain reproduction, but there's a lot of detail now, where there wasn't before.

There isn't a great deal of ephemera of Southern Pacific Lines floating around, but I did find a poster produced in the same period where the logo was a desaturated blue, as well as some references from famed illustrator Fred Ludekens who did some 1930s era advertising for the line. Hopefully I've nailed the overall tone of the California desert. All in, a surprisingly difficult image to do, but worth the considerable effort.

Original caption reads, "Toward Los Angeles, California."

This photograph has been cropped, restored and altered from the original scan. Update: Since this image was colorized the Library of Congress has since uploaded a new scan from the original negative which is of superb quality.

About Jordan J. Lloyd

British author, visual historian and Creative Director of Unseen Histories, bringing the past to life for The Times, LIFE and Unsplash.