Photographers know better than most: how you edit a photograph can totally chance the perception of that photo for the viewer. But a new online photo history quiz wants to make this explicit, showing how converting a photo to black-and-white can trick us into thinking a photo is much older than it really is.
The quiz was created the The Pudding and inspired by a tweet from Production Designer Hannah Beachler. On August 1st, she posted a sentiment that is almost the exact opposite of some historians, saying that people need to “stop showing Black and White pictures of the entire decade of the 1960s so people stop thinking it was 1000 years ago.”
Can we stop showing Black and White pictures of the entire decade of the 1960s so people stop thinking it was 1000 years ago. I’m two years younger than the Civil Rights movement. And Ruby Bridges lives down the street from me and is on Instagram. pic.twitter.com/fSehcODE3d
— Hannah Beachler (@chinchilla1970) August 1, 2020
This got the folks at The Pudding thinking about how converting a photo to black-and-white can totally change someone’s perception of when that photo was taken. So they created an online quiz that does just that.
The quiz will first ask you when you were born. Then, choosing from a pre-selected pool of historical imagery, it will present you with 5 photos that are either in their original full-color or have been digitally altered to black and white. Whether you get the original or the black-and-white version (and which photo you get) is a totally random draw.
Then, once you’re done, it will show you the difference between how you guessed and the average guess for both the color original and the black-and-white altered version.
Unsurprisingly, the average scores for each photo are consistently older if the photo was presented in black and white, although not always that much older. The largest gap based on the data right now is 14 years, with several photos showing only a 1 year gap between the guesses for the color and B&W versions.
It’s worth noting that the photos used definitely have some impact on those scores. If you know your history, you should know that a photo of Albert Einstein teaching in the United States was probably taken in the 1940s, and a photo of the March on Washington was taken in August of 1963. But even with those contextual clues, people still tend to identify black and white photos as older than the same photo in color.
To check out the quiz and try your hand at guessing the correct age of every photo they used, click here.