His hometown's history, colorized

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BENNINGTON — Tim Wager may not live in Bennington anymore, but the town is still special to him.

So special, in fact, that he is working to colorize hundreds of historical black-and-white photographs of Bennington from the 19th and 20th centuries, publishing them in a six-book series titled "Bennington History: A Colorized Journey Through the 19th-20th Century." The first book was published in August, and the second is slated to be available to purchase today.

Wager was born in Bennington, and lived in the town until he was 27 years old. Forty years ago, he moved to Pittsburgh, where he lives today. He still has family in Bennington.

"You just always think about your hometown," he said. "You've always got hometown in your blood."

Wager says years ago, he got online to catch up on what was going on in Bennington. He wound up on a Facebook group with many people posting historical photos, but many of the photos did not have captions or dates.

"Something's got to be done about this," Wager recalls thinking.

He began by adding dates and captions to the photos, and toyed with the idea of making a book to compile them in one place. A few years went by and the project fell by the wayside for awhile before Wager decided to create his own Facebook page for current and former Benningtonians. Currently, the group, "Bennington History, After Dirt Was Invented," has around 3,500 members.

"They have been hounding me for the last three years, hounding me to create my own photo book," he laughed.

They initially asked him to create a book of black-and-white photographs, but Wager knew that had already been done so many times.

The stars aligned when Bennington Museum Collections Manager Callie Raspuzzi contacted Wager to let him know that the museum was digitizing their collection of glass plate slides.

"The images were so clear, I couldn't believe it," said Wager. "That's when I got the idea to colorize [them]. When you colorize something that clear, the detail that comes out of some of them is totally unbelievable."

The museum has the rights to the photos, but Wager has a two-year contract with the museum to use the photos.

"The Bennington Museum has an amazing collection of glass plate negatives and vintage prints documenting the history of Bennington and the surrounding area," Raspuzzi said. "These images are a rich tool for researchers, but we're also happy to see them used in more lighthearted and fun projects like Wager's books."

Wager explained that once he begins the colorization process, he finds aspects to the photos that were hidden before.

"Once you colorize, you're finding cats, dogs " he said, adding that colorizing brings out a whole new world in seemingly mundane photographs.

Wager uses six different software programs to colorize. Each of these programs allows him to control aspects like opacity, brightness, and color.

"I do it with a mouse, just like a brush," he said.

Wager researched popular colors used in the era, especially for storefronts and homes, to base his colorization on.

"Especially homes in the 1890s to 1910s, there were some whacked out paint jobs," he said. "Four or five different colors [on one house]."

It takes Wager anywhere from four to twelve hours to colorize a single photo depending on its complexity. He estimates that around 350 hours went into colorizing all of the photos in his first book. Overall, he has colorized approximately 300 photos of historical Bennington, North Bennington, and Shaftsbury from 1860 to 1960.

Wager believes colorizing historical photographs is an important task that "has to be done." His neighbor is a history teacher, and Wager asked him to show his students black and white photos, then colorized photos. When the teacher asked what the students preferred, everyone said they preferred the colorized photos.

Volume 2 hits the shelves Friday at the Bennington Museum gift shop and at Willy's Variety Store, which is owned by Wager's cousin. The books are sold in limited quantities and he plans to release a volume every three to four months. The first volume sold out in five days and Wager had to get more printed.

Wager says one of the reasons he wanted to sell the books at the museum's gift shop is because the museum offers online ordering for former Benningtonians who now live far away. He also made a deal with the Bennington Museum that if he got access to the library of photographs, he would donate the profits from the books to the museum.

"I'm not making money on this," he said.

Christie Wisniewski can be reached at cwisniewski@benningtonbanner.com and at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.

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