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News Feature: Archival Memory and Visualisation



Many iSchools have programs involving the scholarly and practical aspects of digital archiving. This work often only focuses on text-based documents, even though a wealth of oral and visual materials exists reaching back into the nineteenth century. A group of scholars in Japan are now trying a new approach to bring historical information to life via “the colorization of black-and-white photos using artificial intelligence (AI) technology”¹ . As our former Asia Pacific regional chair Professor Shigeo Sugimoto of Tsukuba University writes about the exhibition of Prof. Hidenori Watanave’s AI work at the New York office of the University of Tokyo: “this event will bring some new thoughts and ideas of digital archiving to the iSchools community.”²


The event is called Convergence of Peace Activities. Connecting and Integrating by Technologies and will take place on 6-7 August, 2022. Those who want to attend the event will need to register. The project focuses on “the relationship between art and design and the memory of disasters.”³ “When visualizing the colors that photographs should have had, the impressions of ‘freezing’ in black-and-white photographs are ‘rebooted,’ and viewers can more easily imagine the events depicted. This bridges the psychological gap between past events and modern daily life, sparking conversations.”⁴ Watanave’s work also makes extensive use of maps to help people get a more complete sense of where events took place. Maps of the current conflict in Ukraine are also available.


Some scholars disparage colourising black and white photographs for undermining their genuineness. The situation changes, however, when the alternation is done openly and makes a deliberate scholarly point in order to enable people to see the original in ways that are intellectually transformative. In that case the alteration is no different than the approach that NASA and the European Space Agency use to make colour versions of cosmic events based on data that were not an integral part of an original photograph, or when optical character recognition transforms unfamiliar type-fonts to ones more familiar to contemporary readers.

 

1: Niwata, Anju, and Hidenori Watanave. 2019. ‘“Rebooting Memories”: Creating “Flow” and Inheriting Memories from Colorized Photographs’. In SIGGRAPH ASIA Art Gallery/Art Papers, 1–12. Brisbane Queensland Australia: ACM. https://doi.org/10.1145/3354918.3361904.

2: Shigeo Sugimoto to Michael Seadle, “an event hosted by U.Tokyo: NY exhibit showcases use of tech to connect, converge peace activities”, 15 July 2022.

3: Hidenori Watanave to Michael Seadle, “Re: an event hosted by U.Tokyo: NY exhibit showcases use of tech to connect, converge peace activities”, 15 July 2022.

4: Niwata, Anju, and Hidenori Watanave. 2019. ‘“Rebooting Memories”: Creating “Flow” and Inheriting Memories from Colorized Photographs’. In SIGGRAPH ASIA Art Gallery/Art Papers, 1–12. Brisbane Queensland Australia: ACM. https://doi.org/10.1145/3354918.3361904.

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