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The Dapper Style of Philippine Cinema Legends Gets a Colorized Revival Thanks to This Artist

Check out the timeless style of Filipinos back in the day.
IMAGE John Eric Cardenas
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In these trying times, it might do us good to remember the golden days of the Philippines, and one way to do that is through restored vintage photos that are quite literally changing the way we see history.  

Colorizing has been gaining momentum in recent years, with artists and online platforms dedicated to promoting Philippine heritage. One such artist that recently joined this movement is John Eric Cardenas, a Sydney-based Filipino who was inspired by another colorizer to take up to the craft.

The Internet is full of foul things, but every now and then, you happen upon gold mines like Cardenas’ stunning colorized photos, which remind you of the wonders of online communities. Some of his most popular projects are restored photos of Philippine cinema legends, giving us a peek at the dapper style of male actors and actresses back in the day.

Just take a look at Carlos Padilla Jr., Manuel Conde, Armando Goyena, and Mario Montenegro of LVN Pictures looking like they walked straight out of an Esquire shoot. What we would give to bring back the dapper style of the 1950s. And just below them is a photo of Joe Sison in all his handsome glory.

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Here’s another set of colorized photos of screen legends Dory Jones, Tessie Quintana, Dina Bonnevie, and Liberty Ilagan, proving the timeless beauty of Filipino women.

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Check out Amalia Fuentes and Romeo Vasquez looking like the classiest love team of all time.

Cardenas even colorized photos of notable historical figures like Juan Luna, Manuel Quezon and his family, Miss Philippines 1927, and the winners of Binibining Pilipinas 1986.

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There’s even this rare photo of Philippine airline stewardesses in the 1950s.

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Originally from Quezon City, Cardenas moved to Australia 28 years ago, but colorizing has kept him tied to his Philippine heritage despite being miles away. A retired ICT professional, Cardenas learned how to colorize on GIMP thanks to YouTube tutorials. Like other colorizers, it was his own family history that got him into craft after he co-authored a family genealogy book back in 2007 and 2008. He gathered old family photos for the book, but it wasn’t until 2019 when he finally had the time to restore and colorize these photos after he entered retirement.

While he’s colorized a number of photos of glamorous celebrities and famous historical figures, it’s still the personal family projects that hold a special place for Cardenas. To this day, his favorite project and “obra maestro” is the 1950s group photo of his maternal grandmother and great grandmother surrounded by the rest of his family.

“I painstakingly restored and colorized this photo as a legacy to that side of the family,” shared Cardenas.

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As much as possible, Cardenas tries to restore the photos accurately, making sure to research the colors that were used for cloth, cars, etc. But he shared that he doesn’t mind practicing some artistic freedom, like when he made his grandfather wear denim in an old 1924 photo, which was unheard of in that day.

Colorizing has given Cardenas fulfillment during retirement, and while a lot of his work is based on commissions, he doesn’t mind providing pro bono work. To him, colorizing is a “win-win hobby.”

“I hope that my restoration and colorization would make the younger generation be more interested in history, not only in Philippine and world history, but also their own family,” shared Cardenas. “I believe we can learn a lot from the past. I believe that if we don't learn from the mistakes of the past, we are condemned to repeat them.”

To see all of his colorized projects, click here to view the album. Cardenas is also open to commissions.

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Anri Ichimura
Staff Writer, Esquire Philippines
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