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With added color and sound, images of old Hawaii are brought to life for modern audience

An Oahu man is colorizing photos and videos of the islands from the early 1900s. His work is bringing life to images that were once black and white -- and touch
Updated: Jun. 23, 2021 at 11:34 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Tony Barnhill began colorizing old photos about 20 years ago, starting with pictures of his grandparents.

But it was just a few months ago that he transitioned to images of old Hawaii.

“I think it brings back some part of the past that maybe we didn’t even know existed,” says Barnhill.

Originally from Kentucky, Barnhill now lives on Oahu and does all of the colorization work as a hobby.

“It’s a labor of love. A passion project, if you will,” he says.

[See Barnhill’s work on his website by clicking here.]

All of the content he works with, starts off black and white. The videos are silent, too. But using artificial intelligence technology, he uploads the original images to his computer program.

“Coming out of there it looks a lot better than the black and white one, but then I spend about a half an hour or so in Photoshop to pop out the colors. Especially the contrast and the detail.”

The pictures he uses are royalty free, from a public domain.

Most of the aerials are from the Army Air Corps.

“Aerial photos reveal so much in one shot,” Barnhill says.

“You imagine the situation is a propeller driven plane. These are the 30s — there’s a guy hanging out the back with a camera that’s loaded with film.”

The most popular photos he’s colorized are those of old Waikiki, when just a few hotels scattered the coastline.

He recently expanded his work to include a collection of videos taken across Oahu in 1906. He adds color and sound to the 115-year-old recordings. And his attention to detail, is incredible.

“I even researched what a Buick Steamer horn sounds like,” Barnhill says. “I tried to be as accurate as possible so we get as real of an experience as possible. I think the only thing we’re missing is the smells.”

Barnhill doesn’t do this for money. In fact, all of his work can be found on his social media pages and his website, free of charge.

He says he just wants the images to be seen.

“I think it reveals the Hawaii that our grandparents and great grandparents lived in. They talk about walking down King Street through Chinatown with an electric street car in the middle with horses on either side. That’s unfathomable to us. We can’t imagine that’s even a possibility.”

He’s also added historical information next to the pictures and videos on his website, so people can learn more about what was going on at the time the images were taken.

“You realize what a different world — what a different place — this was just 100 years ago.”

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