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A Bahraini history buff is adding colour to the pages of history by recolouring old photographs, of Bahraini royals, notable figures as well as scenes dating back nearly a century.
Firas Al-Obaidly has been spending time during the Covid-19 pandemic leafing through his archive of old black-and-white photographs and recolouring those that caught his eye, after carrying out extensive research.
“I have always been a bit of a history junkie and I was fascinated with what the photos I have in my archive would look like in colour,” the 30-year-old architectural engineer told GulfWeekly.
“Architecture is linked to art and keeping up with the latest graphic design tools and applications helped me develop the skills for this undertaking.
“It started with an old family photograph which had been partially damaged due to extensive sun exposure. During the lockdown, I had a bit of free time so I started to explore the possibilities of repairing that photo, and quickly the project grew bigger as I got a positive response on social media.
“Descendants of some of the figures featured in the images I shared have contacted me thanking me for restoring the photos and sharing a bit of history with my followers.”
While recolouring a photo may seem like a simple process given the technology we have access to these days, each of Firas’ pictures is akin to taking a deep dive into that historical moment.
The history buff researches each image, finding reference pictures and scouring through historical collections to find the exact colours for each uniform, garment and accessory.
When he started, it would take him more than six hours to colour an image because he had no reference or idea of garment, skin or eye colours, but as he has gotten better versed in the minute details of history, his workflow has sharpened as well.
Citing examples of recent work, Firas explained: “I recently coloured a photograph of Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, past ruler and Hakim of Bahrain. To find the accurate colours,
“I took a look at the garments in the photos which are displayed at the museum and some garments I recognised from the looks of the texture of the black-and-white photos.
“In a photo of British Intelligence Officer, Thomas Edward Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, he was wearing a World War 1 officer uniform and there are websites dedicated to preserving records and pictures of those uniform colours. Sometimes there’s even a palette and colour name.
“After the colouring comes the enhancing process which is harder because you want to enhance it without destroying the quality of the photo because there’s always a limit in enhancement or de-pixelation.”
Alongside each image, Firas also shares lesser known vignettes from Bahrain’s history to explain the context of the photograph, getting his information from a wide variety of primary and secondary historical sources.
Recently, the artist has also been exploring ties to Bahrain in the histories of neighbouring regions.
He cited the example of a recently recoloured photo of Maharaja Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji Jadeja, who is seen wearing pearls from the Gulf region, highly sought after by Indian royalty.
While this is just a new hobby for now, the photo artist, who is camera-shy himself, is eager to see if he can display his pieces in an exhibition once the pandemic is done.
Follow @firas.li on Instagram for more details.