The photograph is a medium that has fascinated human beings for over a century. The entrancing way in which a photo captures a fleeting moment or a single second in time is part of the snapshot’s enormous charm, but also is its curse…

There’s nothing worse than taking a picture one fraction of a second after the candles on birthday cake have been blown out, the instant your favourite celebrity blinks, or just when some overenthusiastic tourist wanders into the background of your perfectly framed shot.

As technology has developed, we have found ways new ways of achieving the perfect picture, from trigger burst modes on digital cameras and smart phones, to clever patching and healing tools in photo editing software. Until now though, nothing has been very effective in repairing an already spoilt photo.

The image above, taken in Wales in 1853,  shows the very first recorded instance of a ‘photobomb’, an occurrence when someone deliberately or accidentally ruins a photo by entering the camera’s field of view. This concept has become such a part of our image-obsessed modern culture, that ‘photobomb’ was made the Collins English Dictionary’s ‘word of the year’in 2014. The term might be new, but the concept is not… New AI technology may now be able to, not only convincingly repair the area of the photo in which the unwitting intruder has featured, but also to accurately predict what might have been behind them.

Developed by NVIDIA, this innovative artificial intelligence goes beyond copying from neighbouring pixels, but instead uses a deep learning system (which involves studying libraries of other photos) to produce often truly amazing repairs. The NVIDIA technology, unlike its early predecessors, is also not purely limited to tackling boxy areas or spaces in the centre of photographs.

Future Historians should compare and contrast the benefits of uncovering hidden information within photographs, with the challenging idea of whether or not we should attempt to ‘rewrite history’. Aspiring Art Historians should weight the benefits of restoring damaged film and photographic artworks against the potential loss of the creator’s desired artistic effect. HSPS and Psychology students may wish to examine if our recent improvements AI photo technology will further proliferate the idea that we have to present the image of perfect lives online.

More Resources