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Having Traveled The World, Artist Travels Through Time

Colorizing digital scans of historic photographs of Bloomington has provided a kind of out-of-body experience for artist Avi Katz.

  • colorized photo of pool from 1930s

    Image 1 of 7

    Photo: Avi Katz

    Avi Katz colorized this scene of a no longer extant public pool in Bloomington. "This particular shot," Katz admits, "I don’t know why, but it really touched a chord in me."

  • theatre on fire

    Image 2 of 7

    Photo: from the collection of the Monroe County History Center, 202 East 6th Street, Bloomington, IN, www.monroehistory.org, catalog #2001.042.0001

    The Harris Grand Theatre experienced a fire in 1942 and again in 1966.

  • colorized version of the Harris Grand Theatre on fire

    Image 3 of 7

    Photo: Avi Katz

    The Harris Grand Theatre experienced a fire in 1942 and again in 1966.

  • west side of the courthouse square

    Image 4 of 7

    Photo: from the collection of the Monroe County History Center, 202 East 6th Street, Bloomington, IN, www.monroehistory.org, catalog #2001.016.0001

    By the 1930s, the west side of the square was occupied by national chains, including J.C. Penney, Kroger, and Woolworth.

  • west side of the courthouse square

    Image 5 of 7

    Photo: Avi Katz

    By the 1930s, the west side of the square was occupied by national chains, including J.C. Penney, Kroger, and Woolworth. Katz's background in animation helped him date the photograph post-1928 based on the iteration of the Mickey Mouse character that is used in Penney's advertising campaign.

  • crowd gathers around orator in front of downtown eatery

    Image 6 of 7

    Photo: from the collection of the Monroe County History Center, 202 East 6th Street, Bloomington, IN, www.monroehistory.org, catalog #2001.082.0076

    A crowd gathers outside the Book Nook on Indiana Avenue for a light-hearted ceremony. The Book Nook is the venue where Hoagy Carmichael is said to have composed Stardust. IU President Herman B. Wells is seated downstage right, facing the speaker at the podium.

  • crowd gathers around orator in front of downtown eatery

    Image 7 of 7

    Photo: Avi Katz

    A crowd gathers outside the Book Nook on Indiana Avenue for a light-hearted ceremony. The Book Nook is the venue where Hoagy Carmichael is said to have composed Stardust. IU President Herman B. Wells is seated downstage right, facing the speaker at the podium. The process of colorizing this photograph made Katz aware of certain whimsical details, such as a fish on the speaker's podium and the chicken hats some spectators are wearing.

Event Information

Living in Color

An exhibition of historic photos of Bloomington, alongside colorized versions of the same photographs by Avi Katz.


Monroe County History Center, 202 W. 6th St.,Bloomington, IN

On view April 4-September 27, 2014, Tues-Sat 10 am to 4 pm; Opening Fri, April 4, 5:30-7:30 pm; Talk by Avi Katz, April 28, 5 pm

free

Monroe County History Center

Avi A. Katz

Artist Avi Katz has worked as a commercial and technical illustrator, animator, and storyboarder from Tel Aviv to New York, with clients from Nestlé to the children’s TV program Blues Clues.  Along with his commercial projects, since having moved to Bloomington three years ago, he’s illustrated a children’s book–The Fish on the Dome–and has created a series of lively cityscapes, teeming with commercial signs, power lines, and sidewalk cafés.

For a new project, Katz has extended his investigation of Bloomington’s built environment using the historical photo archives of the Mathers Museum and the Monroe County History Center, where a show of his colorized versions of these old photos opens Friday.

When I live in a place I really want to live in it; not be a passerby, just come and go.

In his original work, Katz begins by sketching from observation, then adds color digitally–creating the effect of fall foliage or nighttime as desired. Katz has sketched his way to Bloomington via New York and Vancouver, among other places, as a way of connecting to each new home.

“When I live in a place I really want to live in it,” Katz asserts, “not be a passerby, just come and go. So when I came here, the next week I started sketching it, because through sketching you start looking at the place, and not just seeing it. Looking at it.”

Somewhere In Time

The habit started in his native Israel, where Katz spent hours in Tel Aviv coffee shops making careful notations of time and place.

“Over there I did something I don’t do here,” Katz explains, “which was to mention the hour, what I drank, the date, who was the waiter, what table, a whole journal under the actual illustration, which, for me, was, in case in the future there will be a time machine, I could go back and meet myself.”

A recent project Katz has undertaken demonstrates just how serious he is about using his artistic skills to travel back in time. Having refined his digital painting technique through his illustration work, Katz is now using it to colorize vintage photographs of Bloomington.

“This is the closest to a time machine you can go, because, when I do little scenes, I get into those little details, like two people talking or things that you wouldn’t really look at when you normally look at historical photos.”

While combing through photos with Rebecca Vaughn, Collections Manager at the Monroe County History Center, Katz found one labeled “Municipal Park Swimming Pool, Capacity 300 People”.

Diving In To The Past

“This particular shot–I don’t know why–it really touched a chord in me,” Katz admits.  “These three kids–I’m sure–just jumped from the diving board and are going for their second round. There are people strolling in nice clothing out in the street, maybe on their Saturday.  And there are people stopping by and looking at their friends inside the pool, or maybe just not having enough money to go in.”

Those people who live there now might  have no clue that this paved spot in front of their house was the core of this town, where people went out on Saturdays and had fun.

“This was actually an industrial area first,” explains Nancy Hiestand, Program Manager for Historic Preservation for the City of Bloomington.  The site in question was south of Third Street, between Washington and Lincoln, where the Waldron, Hill, and Buskirk Park (formerly Third Street Park) is now located.   After a spoke factory relocated from the site, it was developed as a park during the 1920s. “They wanted a municipal pool because that was the thing to do in those days–it was the Progressive era.  I’m not sure when it was filled in.”

Along with colorizing digital scans of the vintage photographs, Katz visits each site to document it.  “There’s a parking lot there today, but those houses are still there.”  It’s especially poignant for Katz to see the same porch that shows up in the historic picture in his contemporary shot.  One of those hidden details that his process uncovers is a couple on a swing on that porch, overlooking the pool.  “Those people who live there now,” Katz speculates, “would have no clue that this paved spot in front of their house was the core of this town, where people went out on Saturdays and had fun.”

Out-Of-Body Experience

There’s something about actively engaging with those photos in Photoshop that causes Katz to insert himself in them. “I feel that I know the place,” Katz avers. “It will sound ridiculous, but I can say I kind of lived in Bloomington now, in 1910, in 1942 [and so on].  It’s kind of an out-of-body experience of being there.”

Color triggers something in your eyes that tells you, ‘I’m looking at this,’  not some filtered version of it, in spite of yourself.  It’s artifice, but artifice that allows you to imagine reality in a more vivid way.

“You get people hooked on a detail and they can, to some extent, feel they’re walking into another time and place,” asserts Eric Sandweiss, Carmony Chair of the Indiana University Department of History. Color, Sandweiss elaborates, has the power to get them there automatically–

“Color triggers something in your eyes that tells you, ‘I’m looking at this,’  not some filtered version of it, in spite of yourself .  It’s artifice, but artifice that allows you to imagine reality in a more vivid way.”

“I’ve often thought that people who are receptive to historic preservation are people who can have these empathetic experiences with the visual environment,” adds Hiestand. “People who fall in love with old houses have had a kind of out-of-body experience understanding the length of time that the building has been there, and the people who’ve lived in it, and they find some value in that, in the continuity in the human habitation of a space.”

Yaël Ksander

WFIU's Arts Desk Editor, Yaël seeks out and shepherds the stories of artists, musicians, writers, and other creative people. In addition, Yaël co-hosts A Moment of Science, writes essays for A Moment of Indiana History, produces Speak Your Mind (WFIU's guest editorial segment), hosts music and news hours throughout the week, and lends her voice to everything from accounting courses to nature documentaries. Yaël holds a MFA in painting from Indiana University, an MA in art history from Columbia University, and a BA from the University of Virginia, where she studied languages and literature.

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