‘Lisahally is just a stone’s throw away and the history and heritage of the place fascinates me’
Alex Duffy started restoring old photos ten years ago after finding a tin full of them belonging to his late mother who sadly passed in 2005.
Over the past decade the Strathfoyle native has lovingly restoring and colourised hundreds of images from the city’s storied past.
The results are glorious, as can be seen across this page as well as on the ‘Reminiscence - Photo Restoration Co.’ Facebook page which Alex established earlier this year.
At present the Strathfoyle Community Association community worker is working on a batch of old World War Two photographs in his collection which include the famous surrender of the Kriegsmarine U-Boats at Lisahally in May 1945.
The main photo, above right, features one Oberleutnant Klaus Hilgendorf who was involved in the German Kapitulation in Derry as the war neared its end.
Alex explains: “On Monday, May 14, 1945, 8 German U-Boats led by Klaus Hilgendorf, (photo entering train) commander of U-1009 entered Lough Foyle bound for the Royal Naval jetty at Lisahally.
“The photo of the six U-Boats [main photo above] was also taken at Lisahally.”
Alex says he got hooked on restoration after stumbling upon his late mother’s collection a decade ago.
“This old tin contain old black and white as well as sepia photos of obscure sizes. Some were ripped, torn and had creases and others had pen marks or were faded and in poor condition.
“The subjects included my mother as a baby, her sisters and other family members who lived in England and had family of their own. They would have sent back post card photos of events like weddings, confirmations, births and so on.
“I had always used Photoshop, going back some 20 odds years and was confident enough of its use and tools so I set about restoring some of the photos and really enjoyed the process. I’ve been hooked ever since.
“As time went on I was restoring more photos for family and friends, word of mouth spread and I never charged for this and truth be told, I still don’t most of the time especially when it is a memorial piece or something I really enjoyed working on.”
Over the years the hobby has burgeoned into something a little bit more ambitious.
This year he started a small business from home offering photo restoration. This was on a part-time basis as he is still busy as a full-time creative media youth worker at SCA.
“I am currently working on a WW1/2 series of photo restoration and colourisation, I have taken an interest in the subject of the U-Boats surrendering at Lisahally led by the German Commander Klaus Hilgendorf. As a local community representative in the area of Strathfoyle, Lisahally is a stone throw away. The local history and heritage fascinates me so it has been a pleasure to work on these significant photos in terms of local history.”
The beautifully revitalised photographs of this historic moment in the course of WW2 in the Atlantic will be of most interest to people in Derry.
But Alex has restored a series of other WW2 images from further afield in order to provide context.
“With the most recent batch of U-Boat photo restorations was the U-390 that was sank by the royal navy,” he said, of the Type VIIC vessel sunk by British warships in the English Channel in 1944.
“The photo of the sailor in the hatch [bottom left of these pages] is the U-390 that was sunk by depth charges dropped by two British ships, the destroyer HMS Wanderer and the frigate HMS Tavy.
“Forty-eight men died in U-390; there was one survivor. The photo of the sailor enjoying a smoke was another U-Boat (unknown). I have lots more restored however these are the only U-Boat related ones I finished.”
Alex describes the photo restoration process as extremely therapeutic.
“Looking at every small detail on a photo, like using a magnifying glass, finding and correcting those little details that really make a good restoration.
“When I am restoring a photo I daydream about the life the subject had, what became of them, what changes did they make within the world and are they still alive.
“I am totally involved in the process and can even imagine the noise the moment the photo was taken and in my mind’s eye the scene will come alive.
“This helps with the colourisation as you are working on an old, black and white, damaged and faded photo with the colour not being present.
“You must use your imagination to fill in the blanks. Imagination is one thing but then comes the research...”
This can be an exhaustive and time consuming process if authentic results are to be achieved. Many questions are posed by the old black and white pictures.
“What colour were the medals on the chest? What about the stripes on the arms, over-coats, are they the same colour? What colour was the decking? The storage crates? What about the hats the sailors are wearing?”
Alex derives his war photographs from a variety of sources.
“I own a lot of original WW1/2 photos that I bought from private sellers. That way I know I am working on something unique and hopefully a subject that has never been coloured before.
“Others within my collection come from the Imperial War Museum London. As well as the restoration of old photos I also restore old negatives. Most of the time they have never been seen by anyone as they have been laying in tins like my story started with photo restoration.”
Visit https://www.facebook.com/Reminiscencerestore or https://twitter.com/reminiscenceco to see more of Alex’s work or for commissions.