HONOLULU (KHON2) — Have you ever thought about taking a real peek into our history?
Time machines don’t exist (yet), so books, songs and stories can take your imagination there. Old paintings, relics, photographs and videos can give a glimpse into what happened, but usually, visuals don’t feel as real as what we can see with our own two eyes.
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A local artist is remaking some of those connections, all by adding some color to Hawaii’s past.
Before Tony Barnhill started the Colorized Hawaii of the Past Facebook page, he began by seeing what he could create of old black and white photos of his grandparents and great-grandparents. Barnhill, who also does carvings, then moved on to recreating some old pictures of his Tantalus neighborhood. From there, Hawaii’s past started to pop.
“When you see it for the first time in color, it’s like wow, that’s amazing. I want to see every black and white photo in color now. So that’s my inspiration,” Barnhill said.
Some of his recreations are stunning, take Koko Crater before development of the dredging of the marina. How about Waikiki with the Royal Hawaiian under construction in 1925, or Diamondhead in 1939.
“Nothing but banana trees and no buildings anywhere. I think those are the ones that are like wow, can you imagine?” Barnhill wondered.
Then there’s the human beauty. He’s recreated legendary waterman Duke Kahanamoku with a young Shirley Temple in 1939, and Queen Liliuokalani’s beautiful portrait in the early 1890s.
Bishop Museum has helped Barnhill fill in the gaps.
“I do my best to color them accurately. But in a lot of ways, they teach me the right colors because the lei or flowers or feathers that don’t exist anymore,” Barnhill said.
He puts in tedious hours using photoshop, and part of the colorization involves artificial intelligence.
“The more knowns in the photo, the more accurate it can be. For example, Diamondhead and the sky. If that is in any one of the photos, everything else is going to be pretty well lined up,” Barnhill said.
He’s working on a project taking a film from 1906 shot on King Street in downtown Honolulu, and bringing it to life with color. It’s part of a two-hour film he’s creating with footage he purchased from the Library of Congress.
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“When you see the photos in black and white, it seems like a generation removed from here from now from our neighborhood,” said Barnhill. “It’s this place but we see it in black and white and I think we don’t have the same connection to it. When we see it in color it brings it alive.”