Thursday 25 June 2020

Coventry man brings to life old photos to 'give them a home'

Coventry man brings to life old photos to 'give them a home'

Lost photographs and discarded picture albums have been a recurring theme on this blog over the years - from photos of a still under construction Tower Bridge being found in a skip, 5,000 First World War photos rescued from rubbish dumps, to rare images of the British Raj from over one hundred years ago turning up in a shoe box.  On each occasion we have marvelled at the wonderful glimpse into the past these eleventh-hour rediscoveries have afforded us while at the same time lamenting the fact that they have been so undervalued as to have been left forgotten for decades or more, often to the point of their near-destruction.

This latest article is no exception and once again it is thanks to the efforts of one collector that a number of old photographs - primarily picture postcards of his home town of Coventry and studio portraits of its inhabitants - have been saved for posterity.  Peter Knight's attitude towards preserving these "forgotten faces" is one that we can well appreciate - the thought that they might represent all that is left of a person's life, that they are the last surviving visual documentation of their existence and the travesty that would result if they were just left to gather dust (or worse).

What gives this story added inspiration is that Mr Knight has been able to use modern technology to restore the images to a startling degree of freshness, colourising them and in some cases even employing the much talked-of computer trickery that is "deep fake" to slightly animate the photos.  While I am not convinced about the latter technique, the colourisation does go some way to adding to the immediacy of the pictures, to reinvigorating the subject and, indeed, bringing them back to life.  Mr Knight's idea of incorporating these photographs into a virtual online world of an historical Coventry is also an intriguing project and one that I hope succeeds.

There has been some degree of backlash from certain quarters recently regarding how far "restoration" of old photographs and cine-footage should go following the colourisation, addition of sound effects and 4K HD & frame rate upscaling applied to the famous Lumière brothers' 1896 film L'Arrivée d'un train à La Ciotat and other late 19th-/ early 20th-century footage on YouTube.  As a student of history I can well understand the disquiet that is felt at the perhaps unnecessary meddling with things that were products of their time and should be understood and appreciated as such but equally I can appreciate the thinking behind it and in particular the benefits to the originals and their history that may result.  For example, is Peter Jackson's recent excellent WW1 film They Shall Not Grow Old just "showmanship" or a legitimate attempt to modernise important historical footage for a new, 21st century audience?  As I have said we as lovers of times gone by can appreciate black & white pictures and films as windows to the past but to many [young] people it is as alien and as relevant as another planet - noiseless, colourless, oddly-dressed people long since dead.  If adding colour, realistic movement and other modern technological features can help get new generations more interested and perhaps lead them back to the unadulterated original, with a better understanding and appreciation of what it represents, it might well help to avoid further examples of photographic abandonment like those mentioned and ensure the endurance of classic early cinema and historic photographs such as those saved from oblivion by the likes of Peter Knight and others.

***What do you think?  Can film or photographs ever be over-restored?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.***

1 comment:

  1. Colorization is a neat artistic addition to old photos and film as long as the colorization is done to copies. I'm more a preservationist and like the dramatic of B & W that is not found with color.
    Back in the 1980s Ted Turner got himself in hot water over colorization of old movies here in the USA. I don't know if he used originals or copies, but the news for his (his company's colorizing actions) was not well received.


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