When someone you love becomes a memory, that memory becomes a treasure.Unknown
When you are young, you tend to live for the moment and not think much behind or beyond the present day. As you age, this changes. You begin to ponder far more about your legacy, like where you came from, and where you are going. These are important life questions.
To properly plan the future, you really need to understand where you came from. So, understanding the past is critical for predicting the future. The past is captured in your family’s historical photographs. In the madness of our chaotic lives, we often fail to properly care for or protect our collective family pictorial history, and these vital personal artifacts are rarely preserved. Photos, in the form of prints, positives, and negatives, when finally hunted for, are found to be damaged with processing chemical deterioration, UV light fading, humidity and temperature oxidization, stains, creases, rips, and various other defects.
Back in 2004, I wrote a graduate thesis about wireless technology and it was later followed up by two published articles on the same topic. These articles needed some images to help tell the story of famed Hollywood movie star and prolific scientific inventor, actress, Hedy Lamarr. She invented spread spectrum modulation which is the foundation of many of our modern technologies. It is used in Wi-Fi, cellular smartphones, and many other key advanced devices that we could not live without. So, I reached out to her youngest of three children, her son, Anthony Loder, to learn if he had any images that I could legally use to go with the articles.
It turned out that the Lamarr-Loder family was no different compared to every other family, and even though many images existed, they were all in a damaged state of condition. I offered to perform the restoration of some images and then return the repaired picture files back to the estate of Hedy Lamarr. A few weeks later after our telephone calls, a FedEx package arrived at my doorstep with a variety of amazing photographs of the legendary actress. All were seriously damaged.
In total, I restored 8 images with each picture needing an average of 10 hours of work to correct for creases in prints, fading negatives, and various damaging stains. The first step was to scan the source images into the computer using a Canon flatbed and a Nikon LS-8000 film scanner, so I could use Photoshop to fix them. All were scanned at 4,000 dpi and 16-bit. I also used the Applied Science Digital ICE³ suite of automatic correction tools to help with the ingest of these scans, including Digital ICE (Image Correction & Enhancement) which helps to remove dust, scratches and finger prints from scanned images, Digital ROC (Reconstruction of Color) which assists to restore faded images to true, brilliant color by determining ideal color tone for each image, and finally, Digital GEM (Grain Equalization & Management) to do a first pass to equalize image grain resulting in a smoother overall image. Then, the hard work began.
It was painstaking work with hours and hours spent working at a pixel by pixel level. Most of the images were black and white 6cm x 6cm negatives, with only three glossy 8×10 inch prints in colour. All of the images were the original work of another legend – famed glamour photographer of the Hollywood golden era of A-list actors, none other than George Hurrell. It was a true privileged to even touch his work, let alone take on the challenges to restore it.
If we fast forward to today, the task would have been so much easier to complete. Instead of 80 hours of hard labour, it could be accomplished in 1/10th of the time, perhaps 30 to 60 minutes per image, with elite artificial intelligence (AI) tools readily available to everyone from several hosted cloud sites. Today, image restoration is a snap and sometimes, these AI tools can do a better job than I could ever do myself manually at a pixel level. It is fast, affordable, and easy for anyone to repair their family photographic legacy. And you do not need to invest in the fancy software tools, nor possess the patience of a saint.
Here are a few examples of online tools that you can apply to fix your family’s photographic history.
Most old photographs have defects. Over time, prints and film will deteriorate and it is challenging to get a great result. Here is a picture of me with my two sisters. It is covered in scratches and damage. The contrast ration between black and white is flat. The resolution is poor, so it is not very sharp. The enhanced image is definitely better, but still lacks depth and shape. Most of the damage is removed and the contrast is slightly better as is the sharpening. But, still not as perfect as the demonstration images promoting the web site. I used hotpot online AI tools to restore these images.
Taking old black and white photos and after a full restoration is completed, there is a desire to further enhance them with colourization. A lot of purists resist the idea of colourization, but personally I prefer colour images compared to black and white. Yes, many will argue against it, and that is absolutely fine. It is not for everyone.
But, colourization can bring a whole new contextual meaning to an image if it is colourized well. Now, many of these AI tools for colourization are far from perfect. They struggle to identify elements of the image, so they fail to colour it all, leaving some aspects in black and white. With AI training from more submissions, these colourization platforms will improve over time.
In the example below, you can see an old B&W photo from September 1961 on the occasion of my 5th birthday. I am seen here with my younger and departed brother. The colourization is incomplete and the skin tones are not well balanced or even close to being correct. The colouring for the house is lost to B&W, yet the grass, which the AI detected correctly identified is rich and vibrant. So, some aspects are excellent and others are absent.
The original print was scanned at 2400 DPI on a Canon flatbed scanner, but the B&W image would need enhancements before it was colourized.
When using a colourization AI power tool from Algorithmia found at www.colorize-it.com, you can see the difference between the two-shot of the my brother and me in the example and the fully colourized end result. The noise within the source image was enhanced along with the colourization.
Next, I tried out the MyHeritage family history research site to consider their photographic image enhancement tools. It was first enhanced with grain reduction and sharpness as well as some correction of defects. Then, the enhanced B&W image was colourized. It is not too bad. But, again, still needs many improvements. Below in the photo of the four siblings, you can first see a before and after shot. Followed by the colourized image. My older sister’s hair was never purple in those days. But, still, pretty good results, but still not as perfect as I had hoped for so my expectation is that they need to do even more training of the AI platform and make a few algorithm improvements. Then, I anticipate that it may yield far better results in the future.
There is a relatively new tool available online from the MyHeritage web site that allows you to animate a still image. It is both deeply emotional and yet somehow disturbing to see a still image of a departed loved one moving, blinking, and smiling back at you. For me, this image of my departed sister drew tears when I first saw it. It triggered powerful emotions that I was unaware where lingering deep inside me. After some contemplation, I would say that it is exciting AI technology that delivers great values to the viewer. However, not everyone will see it the same way that you do, as others may have never had the kind of relationship that siblings share, nor feel the eternal bond for your family members – we are ‘Martins’ was our pack mentality. lol
The source image of my departed sister was seriously damaged and needed a lot of work to correct. The first photo is a picture of a picture. So, the resolution is poor, the stains and damage are obvious, and the over all quality is lacking. But, sometimes, this is all that you have to work with, so you do whatever you can to salvage the image. I made manual corrections first to give this important image a chance for success. I used ACDSee Pro for these manual edits.
The end result is an animated video clip of my departed sister. It is a powerful video that stirs up all kinds of emotions for me. It may not do anything for you since you did not know her. But then, you can revive your own deceased relatives too. Afterwards, please tell me what you think and feel in the comments.
For the average person who snaps pictures with a smartphone, there is a serious risk of not being even able to preserve your family archives. Since the majority of snapshots are taken with a cellular phone, there are no family albums or boxes of prints to reminisce over recalling those who have gone before you. I fear that this is a serious loss to society. The digital age brings many amazing capabilities and they are all desired. But, saving photos to the cloud is a fool’s game and with the rapid and unbridled transformation of the cloud storage industry, these repositories can disappear overnight. Along with your photographs.
It is vital to maintain a personal family archive that is readily accessible and available, not hidden behind a pay-wall, or a secret password that dies with you.
Printing images needs to be revived for the sake of posterity and to provide your offspring with their legacy in the years to come. It is only by knowing the past that we can correctly navigate the future.
In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.Alex Haley
About the Author:
Michael Martin is the Vice President of Technology with Metercor Inc., a Smart Meter, IoT, and Smart City systems integrator based in Canada. He has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for applications that use broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies. He is a business and technology consultant. He was senior executive consultant for 15 years with IBM, where he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX). Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V). He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology. He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario. For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section. He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 20 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.