Repainting History in Technicolor

Esiri Erheriene-Essi’s 'Familiar Strangers' Finds New Recognition in Photographs of the Mid-Century African Diaspora

The earliest colored photographs were fragile black-and-white daguerreotypes, hand-painted with a watercolor technique. The task was laborious, not to mention risky, because the plates were so easily damaged. But the result, a cross between painting and photograph, gave the 19th-century pictures a new level of verisimilitude.

Today, London-born and Amsterdam-based painter Esiri Erheriene-Essi pursues a different sort of visual fidelity when she transforms archival mid-century snapshots of the African diaspora through oil paint and often xerox transfer, a graphic technique she uses to layer images onto the background of her …