The hand coloured photos of Byron Bay surf life savers

keith bensley old photo 07

This image of rosy-cheeked surf life savers was shared with me by an old-timer in Byron Bay, Keith Bensley.

I had arrived at his modest weatherboard home to chat about fishing, for a story I was writing on marine park sanctuaries.

Keith, 88, had prepared for my visit by selecting a few of his old photo albums to show me pictures from the days when the ocean was thick with bream under the old jetty; before it was lost to the second cyclone.

Amid the well-thumbed photo albums were these images of Byron Bay before the sand mining and sea changers.

They jumped out at me. They had been hand – painted by his father, Keith told me, and were dated 1942.

Photographic hand colourists were in great demand before the invent of coloured photography and would use  all manner of materials to add colour to monochrome images: water colours, oil paints, crayons, pastels and other paints and dyes.

By the ’50s, coloured photography had all but taken over from hand-colouring, but the artform still exists through to today, often in a digital colouring process.

I can only imagine how long it took to painstakingly colour these black and white images, still beautiful even after 70 years.

Below are a couple more of the photos Keith shared. Not only do I love the aesthetic of the selective colouring;  I love the formal, staged poses. These photos were taken in an era when each photograph mattered. You couldn’t afford to mess it up. Also – the swimming trunks. What’s not to love about those?

:keith bensley old photo 01 keith bensley old photo 02


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