Connect with us


‘AI Doesn’t Do the Past Justice’ says Talented Civil War Portrait Colorizer



Civil War Couple

Photo restorer Adam “A.B.” Cannon, who sometimes spends up to a month enhancing American Civil War portraits, says that AI programs that colorize black and white photos do not account for real history.

Cannon trawls through the digital archives of institutions such as the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian for high-resolution public domain images that he can use as source material for his project ALIVE: The Civil War in Color.


Cannon tells PetaPixel that he predominantly uses Photoshop to create his wonderfully detailed, vivid portraits of people who were born some 200 years ago.

“My process first starts by loading the huge files into Photoshop. Some single TIFF photo files can be as large as 1.5GB,” he explains.

“These images, in particular, are more than 150 years old–so many have extensive damage. I begin by restoring and repairing any damage. This step alone can take me several hours.”

civil war

Cannon says that he diligently removes every single speck of dust individually.

“Automatic filters can remove the dust particles in one fell swoop, however, sometimes they misinterpret facial features such as moles and birthmarks as dust and remove them,” he says.

“I believe this would do the sitter a great injustice. I want to preserve their likeness as closely as possible.”

After adding dozens of layers to enhance and sharpen, Cannon is ready to add color to the image. However, he says that he “obsesses” over minute details to ensure historical accuracy.

“I consult often with my network of historians, uniform collectors, and fashion experts. For things like uniforms, there are often existing specimens I can reference for color,” he explains.

“For other details such as the colors of dresses worn by unknown women, no color reference exists. I deliberate over the most likely and viable color for each piece of clothing. I learn new things every day.”


Artifical Colorization

There are now artificially intelligent (AI) programs that can colorize photos in an instance. However, Cannon is a purist and says that these automatic tools “don’t do our past justice.”

“These tools are tinged with bias and do not account for real history at all,” he says defiantly.

“I believe the commitment and effort toward faithful representation are meaningful and sets apart manual colorization from AI colorization,” he adds.

“Since I’m manipulating a digital file, I’m not modifying the original in any way–so I see my colorizations as compliments to the original rather than replacements.”

Cannon will spend an eyewatering 10 to 15 hours on each Civil War portrait — and that time can get even longer if there are several sitters or elaborate environment details.

“The longest I’ve ever spent on a portrait was over a month–to get everything to a point I felt was satisfactory,” he adds.

Labor of Love

He tells PetaPixel that a fascination with the Civil War stretching back to his childhood led him to colorize portraits from that era.

“I was particularly drawn to these portraits because of their clarity. I was able to gaze upon the faces of real people who lived over 150 years ago. It was a transformative experience for me,” Cannon explains.

“I realized that for some of these people, these were the only photos that were ever taken of them. I started seeing the sitters as more than figures frozen in the past. They became people; people who felt, heard, and saw the world just as vividly as we do now,” he says.

“I immediately recognized an opportunity to apply my techniques to these photos to enhance their clarity and relatability even further through restoration and color.”

Cannon has been colorizing and enhancing old photos for nearly a decade. He works with museums, historical societies, and families to breathe fresh life into old photos.

“I’ve shared several images from this project online some of which have been viewed over a humbling 30,000,000+ times. It’s so fulfilling to know that people feel the sort of human connection with the past I hope to evoke in my work,” he says.


The ultimate goal for Cannon is to publish the images in a book and produce an accompanying documentary.

“I want to immerse viewers in the time leading up to the War, the war itself, and the reconstruction era–all in color and immense clarity as if they are witnessing the scenes as if they were there.”

Color Controeversy

Some historians have spoken out against the colorizing and upscaling of old photos, calling it a “nonsense.”

Cannon agrees that black and white photos do not need color to be enjoyed, but argues that the lack of hues “forces us to view the past as a a distant world.”

“Our ancestors saw the world in vivid, real clarity just as we do, however, their photographic techniques were simply not capable of capturing the critical dimension of color,” he says.

“Now, thanks to digital technology and extensive research, we can peer back into time and see the world just as they saw it.”


Cannon hopes that color can make the past more relatable and accessible, as he believes it gives the modern viewer more empathy for those who live in yesteryear.

“I think it’s comforting to share that bit of human connection with real people who lived generations before,” he adds.

More of Cannon’s work can be found on his website, Instagram, and Facebook.

Image credits: All images couresy of A.B. Cannon Photo Restoration.

Continue Reading

Recent News

Crypto Staking Crypto Staking
Crypto19 hours ago

Is it Possible To Make Money On Crypto Staking in 2024?

In the modern world, cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies are becoming increasingly popular, attracting the attention of investors and users from...

Lake Como Lake Como
Wedding19 hours ago

How to Choose the Right Location for a Marriage Proposal in Italy and Lake Como

Proposing marriage is a unique and memorable moment in a couple’s life. Choosing the right location is crucial to creating...

Personal Injury Lawyer Personal Injury Lawyer
Law4 days ago

Finding the Best Personal Injury Lawyer in Lumberton, NC

Personal injury law is designed to protect individuals who have been harmed due to the negligence or wrongful actions of...

WhatsApp Business WhatsApp Business
Business5 days ago

Running WhatsApp Business with Pro+VPS for Android Emulator

WhatsApp Business is one of the most powerful tool for Business to manage customers communication. Running it can enhance the...

Civil Partnership Visa Civil Partnership Visa
Finance6 days ago

Civil Partnership Visa vs Spouse Visa: Which One is Right for You

Choosing the right visa to join your partner in the UK can be confusing. Two common options are the Civil...

Crypto Crypto
Crypto7 days ago

Staked Crypto – A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

Ethereum staking has become an increasingly popular way for cryptocurrency holders to earn passive income through staking rewards. In this...

Ethereum Staking Ethereum Staking
Crypto1 week ago

Maximizing Ethereum Staking Rewards: Tips and Tricks

Are you looking to maximize the potential of your Ethereum holdings? Stake Ethereum using OkayCoin and take advantage of the...

Wedding Wedding
Wedding1 week ago

4 Wedding Services You Can Quickly Check Off Your To-Do List

Organizing a wedding might like arranging a large-scale symphony, in which each element must work together to produce a beautiful...

Luxury Shopping Luxury Shopping
Lifestyle1 week ago

Luxury Shopping in Ibiza: A Guide to the Finest Boutiques

Ibiza is synonymous with lavish lifestyles, sun-soaked beaches, and electrifying nightlife. But beyond the party scene and stunning seascapes, the...

Indian Brides Indian Brides
Fashion2 weeks ago

Top Trends in Diamond Necklaces for Indian Brides

As Indian brides gear up for their big day, the selection of the perfect diamond necklace is crucial. Diamond necklaces...