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An Observation in The Observation Bar

LostInTyme

One of the Regulars
I was a child of the 1950's. I grew up and lived in and around Cleveland, Ohio for the first half of my life. Today while watching a program on the local PBS channel something profound occurred to me. The TV program was showing film footage of 1950's downtown Pittsburgh. It was all black and white.

That's when it dawned on me. My life, back then was essentially black and white. People didn't dress in outlandish colors. Downtown buildings were tall structures, mostly dark stone, or light stone stained dark by the smoke of industry. The streets were asphalt or brick, but both were dark. The quality of light was poor due to a lot of particulate matter that was a constant back then.

I have a vivid picture of my Mom and me standing on Ontario Street in downtown Cleveland, along side the Higbee building waiting for a bus. And we are in black and white along with everything else around us. I can't see any color in my mind. On the ride home, there are colors in my memories but not in downtown. I almost feel it's from a Twilight Zone episode.

We lived outside downtown, out in the suburbs, with green trees and houses of brick or wood, but nothing in the primary colors. There were only muted hues in everything I remember observing. Perhaps my mind was set to see only black and white and shades of gray, but that is how I remember it. My parents, and relatives and all their friends smoked, so, I was constantly looking at things through a haze of tobacco smoke.

I truly don't remember vivid colors until the very late 1950's and early 1960's. There is nothing about this observation that is earth shattering, but only how my mind recalls my childhood.

 
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CatsCan

A-List Customer
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340
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Germany & Denmark
You got me thinking.. I observe the same, when I try to remember my earlier childhood. But are we influenced by all the old photos we looked at when we started to show a first interest in our family foto album? And the longer I think about it, it seems to me, as if our long term memory for colors and also odors first developed later in our lives along with a wider perspective... Could we be biased?
 

Hercule

Practically Family
Messages
940
Location
Western Reserve (Cleveland)
Huh, what an interesting observation. I'll have to ponder it with regard to my own memories.

Well, Cleveland hasn't changed much from the memories you describe. A year ago we moved from Lakewood to Lyndhurst and only in the last couple of months have we regularly made the trek back to the West side every Saturday, and we've noticed how tired it all looks - the muted and subdued colors of everything. Never noticed it when we lived there though. But I think such is American life. There just isn't the penchant for bright colors here. Take a trip to South America and you'll see the difference. Maybe that's why Kodacolor was such a revolution in the 50s. It gave us rich and vibrant colors to look at that we just didn't see in real life.
 

Hercule

Practically Family
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940
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Western Reserve (Cleveland)
Where did you live while in Lakewood? I used to live there, along with Parma, Bay Village, Westlake, and Jefferson/West Park neighborhoods of Cleveland. Company I worked for is in Eastlake.

We were on Emerson, just off Nicholson. I work for BW and wife works for UH/Seidman. Moved east to make the commute better (son goes to US). Still long but much better.

I find it interesting. I am drawn like a magnet to black and white fotos, and feel i could just crawl in. But adding color brings them alive. Check out the Kodachromes on Shorpy and Library of Congress's Flikr collection (there's one about the 40s if i remember correctly. The colors are so intense and vibrant, seemingly much more than real life. It shure would be something to live in a Kodachrome world.
 

Turnip

Call Me a Cab
Messages
2,239
Location
Europe
Strange, growing up with b/w TV first years I though clearly remember having had a fire red Puky (funny name for a brand in English…) tricycle with the typical pennant on the front fender.
Maybe because I had a little accident with it, avulsion of a thumbnail, what has been quite colorful as well…:D
 
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GHT

I'll Lock Up
Messages
8,113
Location
New Forest
I truly don't remember vivid colors until the very late 1950's and early 1960's. There is nothing about this observation that is earth shattering, but only how my mind recalls my childhood.
Postwar on this side of the pond, our country was all but bankrupt. wartime bomb damage was everywhere. The grime and filth added to the scene, but I do remember life in colour even though our photos were all black & white. Back then, London's docks were in an area known as The Isle of Dogs, click on to this link and it will show you the changes over the years. In the early photos the results of heavy bombing are too clear to see but nowadays the same scene shows, in colour, somewhere pleasant to live. Here's one example of those then and now photos.
isle of dogs1.jpg
 

LostInTyme

One of the Regulars
Yes, the foreground picture is rather colorful. But, the background containing all the tall buildings looks like most cities, devoid of such vibrant color. As I look around my home, I see a great deal of color. Looking beyond my home, are other homes, and, since it is autumn, the trees are in color. Soon, it will be winter and the black and white time of nature will be upon us once again.
 
Messages
11,197
Location
Southern California
I blame media. Specifically magazines, television, and movies. Think about it. Many of us are of an age when such media began using technology that would allow them to create these items in color. Mind you, the use of color in magazines and movies pre-dates most (if not all) of the members here. But color television, which most of us now have daily access to in our homes, became popular in a drastic way during the 1960s. In a way it conditioned us to become more aware of the colorful world around us simply because it wasn't in black-and-white. "Oh, look at those colors! Isn't it wonderful?" And as that desire, whether conscious or subconscious, for color grew within us, we began to make the world around us more colorful as well. Advertising, clothing, cars, even the buildings around us became more colorful because we were suddenly more aware of the colors surrounding us every day and knew that we didn't need to live in a drab world if we didn't want to.

Of course, that's just my opinion; I could be wrong.
 

LizzieMaine

Bartender
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Where The Tourists Meet The Sea
That's not too far from my own observations. My childhood, and the world it took place in, was mostly shades of dull, discolored brown, yellowish-off-white, and dark Texaco green, all of it covered with a thick gray film of ennui. The only place you saw high-saturation Technicolor was in the movies.
 

Harp

I'll Lock Up
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8,508
Location
Chicago, IL US
we were suddenly more aware of the colors surrounding us every day and knew that we didn't need to live in a drab world if we didn't want to.

When a boy I came across Oliver Wendell Holmes' quip:
If a man has the soul of Sancho Panza, the world to him will be Sancho Panza's world.

However the Miltonesque aphorism hits the nail on its head:
The mind is its own place. It can make a heaven of hell or a hell of heaven.

Mankind possesses heart, mind, and soul with rational freedom of choice to see the world beyond drabness
come what may. Heaven, hell or both.:)
 

CatsCan

A-List Customer
Messages
340
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Germany & Denmark
I saw a private made film shot in the year 1940. It shows scenes of a family holiday in Løkken, Denmark. It was in color (Kodak). The sensation was so great in that time, that the film maker kept showing flowers in a garden for half of the duration of the whole movie.. "All these beautiful colors!"..

I think it is as hard to remember colors as it is hard to remember odors from the distance of decades. And I guess, we did not pay the same attention to the colors in our world when we were kids. I think we had other priorities of awareness..
 

Turnip

Call Me a Cab
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2,239
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Europe
Though, funny enough, colors play a huge roll shooting b/w, at least huge as in color shooting.
I also remember well the muted Kodak colors which I never have been a fan of, always preferred the more vivid basic tune of Agfa or Fuji, Agfa Ultra or Optima for prints, Fuji Velvia for Dia.
Kodak had some excellent b/w in their portfolio.
 
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Doctor Strange

I'll Lock Up
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5,062
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Hudson Valley, NY
No love for Kodachrome, Turnip? I have stereo slides my parents shot in the fifties that are still just as brilliant as Paul Simon observed. Here's my mom and me in front of our photography studio in 1955 or 56 (just scanned four or five years ago):

2ndStudioMom+MSG.jpg

Now mind you, the vast majority of the commercial photography that we did well into the seventies was in b/w, and while there are some slides, we have hundreds more b/w family pics. (And yeah, I'm still shooting b/w film in classic cameras today!) Sure, color TV became big in 1966... but we didn't get our first color TV until late 1970, when I was already 15.

But despite being marinated in all this monochrome, I have to say that I generally do NOT recall the events/locales of my childhood in b/w. Maybe because I was growing up as an assistant pro photographer, and I was always very aware of the differences between capturing the world in b/w and seeing it in color. Anyway, oddly, I don't mainly recall my youth and surroundings in b/w.
 

CatsCan

A-List Customer
Messages
340
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Germany & Denmark
Still thinking...

The first 6 years of my life we lived in Cuxhaven at the Coast. I was always convinced that the bright sunshine, all reflections of sunlight by water, sky and white sand of the beach and the smell of the ocean were printed so deeply into my brain's concept of how the world must look and smell like, that in my later years, after we had moved to the deep forested back country, I never really felt overly happy. I still live surrounded by forests. These forests absorb a lot of light and you rarely have to use sunglasses here even on bright sunny days. On every first day when I visit the coast, it is like if my mind is liberated from all the gloominess and my spirits wake up. It's the smell, the light even on cloudy days, and the distance of the horizon that lifts me up. I can't get a better medicine when I feel somewhat depressed.

"Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me." H. Melville - Moby Dick. Chapter one.

I can recall the bright light and the fresh see breeze from this period of my childhood, colors however... But this "memory" seems to lurk until I am at the shore again, when it surfaces again. I immediately know, that this place feels right..
Germany's west coast has lost a great deal of romance. Therefor I spend a very big part of my year in the northernmost part of Denmark. The pandemic temporarily limited free movement, and this was a very sad time for me. I felt trapped between the forests. When I finally got to Denmark the first time after the long lock down, it was like I have been under water and surfaced in the right moment before I eventually would run out of breath.

But I guess this doesn't contribute much to the discussion here, I apologize.

Still - I believe that memories from our first decade of life can be biased. The longer ago, the more. But I believe that our first years create the outlines of an ideal world, no doubt. I believe, we weigh everything we get to see later in life against these outlines and unconsciously try to find a "match". This can even influence the choices we make when it comes to people. This doesn't always need to be positive. We can "store" some "error codes" from these early days... To get rid of them can be quite a task. Butter on psychologist's bread.
 

LostInTyme

One of the Regulars
By no means. Your description of your early childhood just re-inforces my point of why I see b/w from childhood. Your early experiences are different for sure. I too have memories of water, shorelines and the like, and these are happy memories for me, warm and soothing.
 

Blue Tick Hound

New in Town
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4
Location
Colorado, USA
A few thoughts...

I'm too young to remember the 50's, but I went to art school and worked for a while as a photographer and graphic designer. My memories of my childhood are more like sepia tone than full color. My family's old 8mm home movies, on the other hand, are in full color in my mind, and they were shot before I was born. It would be interesting to see what a psychologist would say about it, I guess.

There is some discussion about why Homer talked about the wine dark sea, but never used the word for blue. Culture and external stimuli shape your memories as time goes by. Ergo, black and white movies kind of reformat the 50s for LostInTyme.

My mother's family was flourishing in Cleveland about the same time you were. My grandfather was on the Shaker Heights Fire Department. I still have distant family there, but it's been years since I went back.
 
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