A Wave of Nostalgia: The Value of a Photograph

What if all of your family photographs were suddenly washed away – never again seen by you or the members of your family? How would you feel about this loss?

For families in Japan, this is not a hypothetical question. Many Japanese citizens living along the northeast coast of Japan were lucky enough to survive the catastrophic tsunami last March. However, few were spared the devastation of property. Along with homes, furniture, cars, appliances, thousands of family heirlooms and precious photographs disappeared into the powerful tsunami.

I recently heard a touching story on NPR about Becca Manson, a photo editor from New York.  She wanted to help restore a portion of the Japanese people’s loss and had the know-how to do it. A volunteer with All Hands Volunteers, Ms. Manson has been traveling all around Japan. Her task? To collect the photographs that the Pacific Ocean has begrudgingly returned to the Japanese coastline. This has been no small task.  The first phase of her mission is to pass on recovered photographs to the people who can restore them.  She organized a small army of volunteer photo restorers all over the world to help in this mammoth effort. For months, they have been working to clean photographs, returning faded color to images, fixing spots damaged by salt water and repairing torn or scratched pictures.  So far 55,000 photos have been hand-cleaned.  The next step (and a daunting one at that) is to reconnect all of the recovered photographs with their owners.

The reaction to the work has been powerful.  When handed photographs of their children as babies, people have cried – never thinking that they would see these images again.  It was as if the hands on the clock had been turned back.

Reading this article made me think about the ‘time capsule’ of my family’s life that is contained in my family’s scrapbooks and cloth-bound photo albums.  If they weren’t available to be looked at, what exactly would I lose? What would my descendants miss out on?

I believe it would be a sense of connectedness and a sense of continuity. My family pictures recall past times and faraway places. Some were good memories, others were heartbreaking, but all of them belong to my family – it is our truth and our unique experience.

What about you?  When was the last time you looked at your family’s photo albums and savored those images? What have you done to ensure their protection against a disaster?

Write and tell us what memories your family photographs stir inside of you. And stay tuned for upcoming posts with tips on how you can protect your family’s precious heirlooms.