While rifling through Flickr Creative Commons, Australian photographer Jane Long happened across a haunting collection of early 20th century portraits. She had intended to use the images to improve her photo restoration skills, but Long couldn't shake the feeling that those somber, sepia-toned subjects — children, families, soldiers — deserved more.
"I started thinking about what their life must have been like," Long said in an interview. "I found myself wanting them to be happy." And so, Long's intention shifted from restoration to reimagination and her project, Dancing with Costica, was born.
The original photos are part of the Costica Acsinte Archive, a collection of public domain images by the eponymous Romanian photographer, who captured the culture and people of his country from the end of World War I until his death in 1984. Acsinte created some 5,000 glass-plate images that might have vanished completely had it not been for photography enthusiast Cezar Popescu, who came across Ascinte's work a few years ago and has been painstakingly digitizing the deteriorating collection ever since.
Long picks up where Popescu leaves off, using PhotoShop to transform the dreary portraits into dreamy patchwork worlds. By situating the old and new images side-by-side, Long draws a stark comparison between portraiture a century ago and today's selfie saturation. "I'm working against [the subjects'] demeanor, trying to change the mood that is conveyed by their original look,” Long said.
An image can take between 10-15 hours of PhotoShop production. But, once in a while, Long will be so inspired that she'll work on a piece for days. The image, "Neptune's Bride," for example, took about 40 hours to piece together.
"Sometimes I want to convey a particular story and sometimes I just want people to think differently about the subjects of old images," she said. "It's very easy to depersonalize the people in old images but when they are re-colored and put into a different context they become more relatable.”
A happy accident of her work has been the warm response from Romanians. "Along the way I’ve developed a really fond relationship with the Romanian community," Long said. In addition to Popescu's support, Long has been invited to show her series at the Romanian embassy in the Australian capital of Canberra and some fans have even promised homemade pastries should she ever visit Romania. "I'm definitely going to get there one day soon!" she said.