Arts and Music / Culture / History / People of the South

Colorizing Old Photos of Philippine History: The Art of Ivan Bilugan

ONE DAY, TWO years ago, Ivan was helping his mother organize their old family photos when they found a very small picture, taken in 1953, of his mother (then five years old) with her three-year-old brother and their cousins. Wanting to preserve the photograph and knowing Ivan’s skills in digital graphics design, Ivan’s ma asked him to digitally restore the picture and have it enlarged. Ivan thought he could do better than that. Not only would he restore the picture, he would also transform the sepia photograph into a full-color memento.


The picture was Ivan Bilugan’s first ever colorized photograph and his first dip into photo colorizing. For it, he had to research the techniques involved, the different palettes he could use, some history lessons, and, of course, a who’s who in the practice of the craft—beginning with mostly foreigners, including one Brit of Filipino descent: Jordan J. Lloyd, a London-based artist whose roots go back to General Trias, Cavite. It was only later that he learned of the country’s handful of “colorizers”: Manolo Quezon, Derrick Makutay, Edmon Sison, Homer Fernandez, Venjoy Alegre.


“They were very helpful and generous with suggestions on the techniques and principles of colorizing photos. Sir Jordan even told me to strongly observe the lighting and the shadows in the black-and-white photo even before adding the colors. I needed their advice for me to grow and learn more about this craft.”

“With personal photos, only minor research is involved. But with historical photos, the research goes deeper…including background of the photo, identity of the subject, color of the costumes [and accoutrements], where the photo was taken (interior or exterior) and what time of day, what camera was used, even the story of what the subject(s) was doing there….”

Skin tone is another thing altogether.


“[Filipinos in northern Philippines] have darker skin tone because they live in thehighlands, [while] those in the southern lowlands tend to be lighter. The Chinese before were more yellowish. Manilans also tended to be yellowish due to Chinese influence.

Overall, Asians and Africans tend to share the same color palette: brown and red. Caucasians, however, are orange and red with a little brown.”


Through Facebook, Ivan met John Tewell, a retired American pilot turned photographer based in the Philippines. Some of Tewell’s pictures had been making the rounds of the internet without due acknowledgement. When Ivan colorized one of Tewell’s pictures

(Manila’s Metropolitan Theater), he acknowledged the latter’s authorship.

This was in June 2015. It was at this point that Ivan decided to seriously considercolorizing as a career. At first, he thought colorizing is still a young and small field in which he could find his niche. “I still think that way,”he says, except now, it has become his advocacy to color historical photos.


“They say history should be viewed in a new light. For millennials, color is one approach to entice them to be curious and learn more about history.”

In August 2016, Ivan collaborated with FHL (Filipinas Heritage Library) in marking FHL’s 20th anniversary. In this collaboration, an exhibit of 30 colorized historical pictures, selected from FHL’s Retrato collection, was mounted, tied up with an exploration of colors mentioned in Philippine literature and songs, as well as Felice Prudente Sta. Maria’s nomenclature of 40 colors identified and verbalized in various

Philippine tribes and cultures. The exhibit was titled “Color in History: FHL Now 20.”


This same exhibit was brought to DLSU-D as an inaugural event for the opening of Museo De La Salle’s Galeria Oriente, and then to De La Salle-Zobel.

Ivan was also a finalist nominee in’s Move Awards, honoring individuals who excel in the creative field to make a difference in society. It was his cousins and siblings who nominated him there, he said. But more than advancing his own popularity, he would like opportunities like that to popularize his advocacy to promote Philippine history in color.


“To understand society today, we have to understand what happened before. We should not be estranged from our past just because of generation gap or time gap. We have to connect—not just with the present and through social media. We have to connect with and be useful to our society as well.”