These retouched photos of Shackelton’s 1914 expedition look like they were taken yesterday

Shackleton recolored. The Endurance.

The Endurance against a pale Antarctic sky, stuck in the pack ice. Shackleton’s voyage went down in history as being uniquely disastrous and surprisingly successful all at once. Despite losing the ship and enduring almost unthinkable conditions, the crew all escaped Antarctica with their lives.
(Image credit: Stuart Humphryes/Babel Colour)

Retouched images of the famous Shackleton expedition of 1914 to 1917 look like they might have been snapped by a photographer visiting Antarctica today.

The photos were originally taken in color, but London multimedia artist Stuart Humphryes brought them into the 21st century by enhancing what was already there. In the original color photographs — saved at no small effort by Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew after their ship was crushed in the pack ice — the colors are muted, giving the photographs a far-off, distant feeling. The retouched versions are more textured and immersive.

“It is quite an emotional jolt for people to actually see images from the expedition not only in full vivid colour but enhanced and immediate and contemporary,” Humphryes wrote in an email to Live Science. “It closes the century gap between the photos being taken and the modern viewer looking at them.”

Legendary voyage 

Shackleton was an experienced hand in the Antarctic when he launched his expedition aboard the Endurance in 1914. His goal was to sail through the Weddell Sea and put ashore a party of men, sleds and dogs to make the first-ever land crossing of the continent. Instead, Endurance became stuck fast in the pack ice in mid-January 1915. The crew spent the long Antarctic winter aboard, hoping to be freed with the summer thaw. Instead, the ice crushed the ship in October 1915, and the men resorted to camping on the ice. On Nov. 21, 1915, the Endurance sank. Shackleton and his crew then camped on the softening pack ice and struggled to drag their lifeboats across it; ultimately, the crew managed to launch their lifeboats into the open water for a perilous six-day voyage to Elephant Island, which was a short distance away. A smaller party, including Shackleton himself, then launched from Elephant Island in a single boat for an 800 mile (1,300 kilometer) hail-Mary trip across the heaving sea to South Georgia island, where a whaling station offered hope of rescue.

Related: In photos: Searching for Shackleton’s Endurance shipwreck

Image 1 of 10

Shackleton recolored.

Alfred Cheetham, the third officer for Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic expedition (as it was known), prepares signal flags aboard the Endurance. Cheetham was experienced at Antarctic travel; Endurance Captain Frank Worsley called him “a pirate to his fingertips.” On the open-ocean journey to Elephant Island, the lifeboat that Cheetham and Worsley were on was separated from the others in a gale. In his account of that evening, Worsley describes Cheetham buying matches from him at the price of a bottle of champagne per match. “The champagne is to be paid when he opens his pub in Hull and I am able to call that way,” Worsley wrote. Though Cheetham survived his Antarctic ordeal, the pub would never be opened. Cheetham enlisted in the Mercantile Marine after the expedition and died in 1918 when the ship he was aboard was torpedoed by a German U-boat. (Image credit: Stuart Humphryes/Babel Colour)

Image 2 of 10

Shackleton recolored.

John Vincent, the bosun, or officer in charge of equipment and crew, of the Endurance, mends a net in this picture by Hurley. Humphryes enhanced the color, collapsing the century of distance between the viewer and Vincent. Vincent was one of five men Shackleton chose to sail from Elephant Island to South Georgia Island in a desperate attempt to secure rescue for the stranded crew. He barely survived the effort. (Image credit: Stuart Humphryes/Babel Colour)

Image 3 of 10

Shackleton recolored.

Members of Shackleton’s crew with their sled dogs. Caring for the dogs was a major activity during the time when the crew was iced-in. At first, the animals lived in “dogloos” aside the ship, sleeping on mattresses of straw and rubbish, according to Shacketon’s “South.” When the weather turned worse, the men built kennels for the animals on the ship’s deck. (Image credit: Stuart Humphryes/Babel Colour)

Image 4 of 10

Shackleton recolored.

A crew member contemplates a lead in the ice during Shackelton’s ill-fated expedition to the Antarctic. The spring breakup of the ice put the men in a difficult position. There was not enough open water to launch the lifeboats, but the ice was too soft and rough to travel over. The crew had to camp for weeks, waiting for the increasingly unstable ice to break up enough for a sea voyage. (Image credit: Stuart Humphryes/Babel Colour)

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Shackleton recolored.

A photograph of the Endurance. Australian photographer Frank Hurley was responsible for documenting the Franklin expedition by camera, a clunky and difficult process in those days. When the ship was crushed in pack ice, Hurley chose around 150 of his best images and smashed the rest of the glass plates on the ice. On the subsequent survival voyage across the ice, Hurley carried a Kodak Vest Pocket camera and three rolls of film, according to History.com. With this, he documented the crew’s camp on Elephant Island and their rescue. (Image credit: Stuart Humphryes/Babel Colour)

Image 6 of 10

Shackleton recolored.

Hurley called this impressive massif at the end of Morain Fjord on South Georgia Island “Bulldog Peak.” An unretouched version of the original color image is available here. (Image credit: Stuart Humphryes/Babel Colour)

Image 7 of 10

Shackleton recolored.

A soft pink light filters over the ice and the crew of the Endurance. The crew attempted to free the ship after it became stuck in the ice, but in mid-February 1915, it was clear that the men would have to winter aboard the vessel. When the spring thaw came, they hoped to sail free — but the churn of the pack ice would instead reduce the ship to kindling. (Image credit: Stuart Humphryes/Babel Colour)

Image 8 of 10

Shackleton recolored.

Hurley continued to document the expedition, even as the ship stuck fast. According to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s narrative of the voyage, “South,” the men spent the Antarctic winter caring for their sled dogs, hunting seals and penguins for food, and dredging under the ice for scientific samples. (Image credit: Stuart Humphryes/Babel Colour)

Image 9 of 10

Shackleton recolored.

This color-enhanced photograph taken by Hurley and retouched by Stuart Humphryes shows the unrest of the ice. Driven by waves and wind, the ice creaked around the ship throughout the winter. The danger only heightened in the spring, when huge slabs of ice would grind together, sometimes lifting chunks of ice 15 feet (4.5 meters) above the rest of the surface. (Image credit: Stuart Humphryes/Babel Colour)

Image 10 of 10

Shackleton recolored.

The Endurance against a pale Antarctic sky, stuck in the pack ice. Shackleton’s voyage went down in history as being uniquely disastrous and surprisingly successful all at once. Despite losing the ship and enduring almost unthinkable conditions, the crew all escaped Antarctica with their lives. (Image credit: Stuart Humphryes/Babel Colour)

The rescue party landed on the opposite side of the island as the whaling station, necessitating thatShackleton, Captain Frank Worsley and second officer Tom Crean trek across the island’s rugged topography. South Georgia had never been crossed before, but the trio pulled off the journey with no map and barely any equipment. Their accomplishments, and the subsequent rescue effort for the rest of the crew, were immortalized in the classic book “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage” (Hodder & Stoughton, 1959).

Not only did the entire crew survive, the voyage’s photographer managed to save 150 of the 550 original photographic plates taken on the expedition. They show the ship stuck fast in ice, the crew going about their daily chores, and stunning Antarctic landscapes.

Amplifying the color

It was these photographs that caught Humphryes’ eye.

“[Shackleton’s] tribulations and determination is the stuff of legend, and many people have read of his feats of endurance and the miracle of his crew’s survival, but much of that story lives in people’s imagination and in a few monochrome photographs that have been subsequently published,” Humphryes said.

Humphryes got his start as a colorizer, taking old black-and-white film footage and adding color to make color movies. Now, he is a colorist, taking century-old photographs that were already in color and amping them up to better reflect what the photographer would have seen through the lens. Humphryes compares the process to removing pops, clicks and other distortions from sound recordings. The retoucher adds nothing new, but enhances what is there. 

“Photography of the 1910s is often thought of [as] monochrome and indistinct, the films as scratchy and jerky,” he said.” “Hand-cranked cameras and black-and-white film make the past look alien and unrelatable. But I try to build a bridge between the modern viewer and the past by removing the ravages of time and making a photo from 1910 look like it was taken on an iPhone.”

In the Shackleton photos, the result is a stunning Antarctic sky in blue and pink, sled dogs you feel like you could pet, and crew members who look like anyone you might pass on a blustery winter day today. On his BabelColour Twitter feed (@StuartHumphryes), Humphryes showcases other retouched photos: World War I soldiers, children playing along the English coast, the governor of Aqaba, Arabia, in 1918. More of Humphryes’ work is available at babelcolour.com

Originally published on Live Science

Stephanie Pappas

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science covering topics from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. A freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, she also regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz. 

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