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Idaho Enterprise

Brent Bowen Brings Color to History; Veterans Book due this Fall

Brent Bowen is careful to stress that he isn’t an expert in photography or computers, though his output certainly goes a long way to dispel that claim.  As one of the primary individuals behind the planned Veterans Book for Oneida county, Bowen has salvaged, updated, fixed, and restored literally thousands of images with spectacular results.  Using a process referred to as AI Picture Colorizing, he has taken hundreds of grainy, sometimes partially destroyed black and white pictures of uniformed soldiers and turned them into faithfully colored and pristine images, destined for a hardbound record of Oneida county’s military veterans due out this fall.

The Veterans Book, which has been under way almost a year, is an update to a previously published book, which contained black and white photos of primarily WWII veterans.  The current book attempts to add colored images to those from the original, as well as add in as many of Oneida county’s veterans as possible across a much wider range of military engagements, including WWI, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, Grenada, Lebanon, Panama, Persian Gulf, Iraq War, Desert Strom, Desert Shield, and the War on Terrorism.  “If you’ve ever raised your hand and taken the oath, we’re trying to get you in this book,” Bowen said.  The committee behind the book—Kay and Gene Caldwell, Patricia Kent, Kathy Kent, and Bowen—has spent months collecting and tracking down photos from family members of those involved in military service.  Many of the photos have come from family collections, though an equal number have been tracked down from other sources, such as Malad High School yearbooks, the museum’s photo archives, and newspapers and other public documents.

“Some of these pictures come in in pretty rough shape.  Sometimes they’ve been scratched or faded.  They have creases and cracks.  A lot of times it’s a picture of a picture.  Sometimes there’s a lot we have to do with them to get them to look as good as we would like,” Bowen said.  

The process Bowen uses, AI Colorization, has become increasingly sophisticated over the last several years.  It involves using a program that scans the image into a database, and then uses a massive network of constantly updating computer-learning information to “guess” at the colors of objects based on historical documents, archival photos, reverse color mapping, and other resources.  One method of predicting color is to take various film stocks from the past and use them to take pictures in color and then black and white, in order to correlate the grayscale density and help predict hues in film stock from similar years.  Historical records of the colors of objects have also been used to enter those densities into the database.  Well known objects pictured in black and white can be used to set values as well.

The process isn’t perfect, of course.  Some guesses turn out to be slightly off—say a maroon instead of a purple—while others can be completely wrong.  Most of the programs Bowen uses are specifically geared to analyzing faces, for which much more baseline data is available.  Still, things like hair and eye color, uniform shades, and other elements can still be a bit of a guess.  Bowen has honed his skill through hundreds of hours of trial and error, and essentially teaching himself the finer points of a variety of AI Colorization programs.

“There are no schools for this that I know of,” he said.  “I just go through them until I get the pictures the way I want them.”  Whether professionally trained or not, the results are stunning, with old black and white photos seemingly coming to life under Bowen’s mouse.  “I think people are going to really like this book,” Bowen smiles.

The book is anticipated for a release in 2022, with November as the hoped for date.  Details for purchasing will be made available as publication draws closer.

Oneida County Veterans Book Update

Thank you to all our supporters!

The goal for the book’s release is November 2022.  It will be one year since the kickoff of the project at the elementary school program, which sounds like a long time.   However, we are dealing with 200 plus veterans photos.  Most have been very cooperative, but for some of the iamges we have had to rely on the MHS yearbooks for youthful photos which have proven very valuable.

To honor our veterans is very important to me, the committee members and the people of Oneida County.

Every effort to make it as correct as possible has been made.

Brent Bowen has re-colored hundreds of photos as he has learned new processes and programs, and he wants the best results he can achieve.  

Research has been done by Gene Caldwell, Brent Bowen, Pat and Kathy Kent, and the ladies at the library.  Heritage Research and Publishing is publishing the book.

Looking forward to sharing our treasure with you in November!


Kay Caldwell