ARTS FOR AMATEURS : Students of Photo Tinting Learn Color Is Not Just an Alternative to Black and White

<i> Lerner is a Times staff writer</i>

The birth of her two daughters more than 20 years ago sparked Carol Dittmer’s interest in genealogical research, sending her searching for relatives with chests of old family photographs in their garages and attics.

Years later, the hand-tinted rosy cheeks and lips in the black-and-white family photographs captured the imagination of her daughter, Ann, who thought that it might be nice to learn to tint photographs herself. Her mother, a 46-year-old bookkeeper, agreed.

Now, the Woodland Hills mother and daughter are among a dozen or so students enrolled in a course on how to hand-tint black-and-white photographs.


Students in the studio workshop class, offered at the Learning Tree’s Chatsworth campus, use oil paints to add personal creative touches to the photographs.

People have been hand-tinting photographs for at least 150 years, said instructor Anthony Yazzolino, 37, of North Hollywood. Before color photography was invented in 1935, the only way to color a photograph was to tint it by hand, he said.

But these days, why would anyone want to hand-tint a photograph?

It can create artistic effects--muted and subtle or dramatic, flashy and surreal, Yazzolino said.

“With tinting, the print becomes almost a canvas. I love the effects you can get,” said Yazzolino, whose love for the tinting medium grew from his collection of hand-tinted California postcards from the 1920s and 1930s. “In some cases, with the correct lighting, you can even have it resemble a painting.”

Students in the class may use their own black-and-white photographs or photos supplied by Yazzolino. The subject matter of the photograph can be anyone or anything the student desires. Carol Dittmer likes to color still lifes. Some students work on photos of statues, gardens, trains and buildings. Those who like to tint old photographs even buy other people’s family photographs at garage sales or thrift shops.

About half a dozen students braved the rain for a recent weekly class. In a room that smelled of rain and paint, students used cotton swabs to dab colors on 8-by-10-inch black-and-white photographs.

Yazzolino, meanwhile, drifted from student to student, offering advice and comments, now and then grabbing a cotton swab to dab paint on the student’s photograph.

Ann Dittmer was tinting a locomotive she had photographed at Griffith Park’s Travel Town.

Yazzolino grabbed a cotton swab and, with light strokes, brushed cobalt violet paint beneath the tracks, asking the young woman if she liked the effect.

Yazzolino didn’t have to worry that he was imposing his view on Dittmer because if she didn’t like it, she could easily wipe it off.

“What color should that be? What color would really draw your eye to that?” Yazzolino asked the 22-year-old Cal State Northridge student before advising her to try yellow on the front of the locomotive.

Next to her daughter, Carol Dittmer dabbed yellow paint on one of her photographs of an abandoned miner’s shack in a Mojave Desert ghost town.

“Remember, one thing you need to do is pull out the texture that’s in the wood,” Yazzolino told her, squeezing a touch of Chinese blue onto a swab and rubbing it across the weathered wood in the picture.

“This takes photography to a whole different realm,” said Carol Dittmer, swabbing happily.

Marilyn Ravicz, 60, of Pacific Palisades said she took the course to relax. Ravicz is a medical anthropologist who evaluates disabled people from other cultures and recommends jobs in which they might succeed.

“When you work with people all the time, sometimes you need to do something with your hands, something non-intellectual,” Ravicz said as she dabbed khaki paint on a picture of a cacti garden.

Barbara Vetter, 38, a Studio City actress and comedian, was dabbing bright colors on an infrared picture she had taken of an old sign for an abandoned motel in Twentynine Palms.

Infrared photography, which makes the clouds stand out, darkens the sky and brings out details that can’t be seen by the naked eye, particularly lends itself to hand-tinting, Vetter said.

“I do a lot of infrared photographs, and they look really interesting when they’re hand-tinted,” she said. “Infrared gives a dreamlike quality all by itself, and with tinting, it has an especially dreamlike quality.”

Vetter said that although most of Yazzolino’s own work uses subtle colors, her teacher “has a playful attitude about things. If you want a yellow sky, he will encourage you to do so.

“I don’t know exactly where this is going to go, but the biggest thing is this keeps me sane,” said Vetter, who is waiting to hear if “The Leftovers,” a Fox Television series pilot in which she recently co-starred, will be picked up as a regular series.

Although most of the people who take the class are amateurs interested in photograph-tinting as an art form, Maureen Lippert and Raymundo Baltazar are taking the course at the request of Grant Studios in Van Nuys, where they are employed as photographers.

The company paid their tuition because the studio sometimes is called on to tint old family photographs for its customers, Lippert said.

For each class, students bring a different print on which to work. If they don’t have a photo, Yazzolino will give them one of his.

Students don’t have to have a photography background to tint photographs, but Yazzolino stresses the importance of composition to students who want to take their own pictures.

Yazzolino, who has a fine arts background in painting and illustrating, shows students his own work, which has been featured in a few local art shows and in Darkroom Photography magazine.

Some of Yazzolino’s tinted pictures look almost like color photographs. But he said tinting conveys more artistic freedom.

“Taking a color picture--that’s too easy. You take it, and it’s over and done with. I have much more interest in the process,” said Yazzolino. “To go through this whole process is the delight.”

The six-week class is offered on a recurring basis by the Learning Tree University at its Chatsworth campus at 20920 Knapp St. The course costs $110, and students should expect to spend about $30 more on paints. For information, call (818) 882-5599.