Colorizing Leadership


Brazilian artist Marina Amaral colorizes vintage black-and-white photos with painstaking care and precision. Once an uncommon endeavor pursued by only a few people, the earliest-known photo colorists worked in the 1830s. They painted daguerreotypes by hand. Today, colorizing photos is facilitated by digital tools available to the masses. While still not an everyday activity, it also isn’t uncommon. Computers have gotten pretty smart at doing the work on their own, too. It will be a long time before computers can match the results achieved by Amaral.

The photo above is not one of Amaral’s works. I “cheated” to make that image–I took a color photograph and desaturated the color out, then placed the two images side-by-side. To see Amaral’s amazing handiwork, go to “Travel Back in Time With the Master of Photo Colorization” in Wired. (That article is my source for info on Amaral in this post and I strongly encourage you to go to the article to review her photos because you can interact with example images to see the before and after comparisons.)

Amaral pours herself into her work, taking a month or more to colorize a single image. She sifts through photo archives such as the Library of Congress to select an image to colorize. Then she conducts historical research to learn about colors used in the materials found in that photo. She also studies contemporary color photos of the same place as a point of reference. Amazingly, she also studies easy-to-skip details such as how light affects skin tone. After all the research, she gets to work in Photoshop, building layer after layer to create the final image. I think her work is a bit eerie because it is simultaneously realistic and subtly anachronistic.

What can we learn from Marina Amaral about leadership?

Leaders have passion for their work. Amaral’s passion is evident in the great care and commitment she makes with each photo. Effective leaders are equally passionate about their work, but more importantly about the people they work with.

Leaders pay attention to detail. Amaral shows great care for the little details in her photos, even considering the correct coloring and shading of pebbles. Effective leaders attend to little details such as considering how decisions impact people at all levels, acknowledging personal details such as birthdays and anniversaries, and following up on even the smallest commitments.

Leaders are patient. Amaral knows that the best outcome requires a whole month for a single photo. Effective leaders don’t expect people to transform overnight. They don’t expect organizational cultures to shift in a week. They don’t expect projects to be completed in a day or even with the first try. Effective leaders understand process.

Effective leaders are many other things, too. What are some of the lessons you gleaned from Marina Amaral’s example?

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at] with your questions.

Photo by tpsdave. Photo available at Pixabay under CC0 license. Image modified for size and space.

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