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After the Tsunami, Perserving the Photos Left Behind

A volunteer team has preserved 750,000 photos discovered in the wreckage from Japan's tsunami last spring.

When a tsunami devastated the Tohoku region of Japan last March, the waves swept away homes, lives, and memories. Clean-up crews sent to deal with the wreckage in the hard-hit town of Yamamoto began collecting a forgotten set of artifacts poking out of the mud: home photos, stolen from cabinets and refrigerator doors by the tidal waves.

Calling itself the Memory Salvage Project, the team of volunteers began storing the lost photos in a local elementary school's gymnasium. The team has collected 750,000 photos since the project began last spring. Some photos were barely damaged by the elements. Others were essentially destroyed. But the Memory Salvage Project is doing what it can to clean, organize, and digitize the photos in the hopes of finding their owners. So far, the team has returned 680 photo albums and 12,000 photographs to their rightful owners.

On the project's website, the projects founders struggle to make sense of the photos' meanings:
What are we supposed to feel and think when we look at these pictures? Should we be happy that they were found at all, or sad that they will never be returned to their owners? Or should we simply mourn for the dead? The more I struggle to find answers, the more missing pieces I seem to find. But without looking at the pictures, I don’t think we’ll see anything at all.
Decide for yourself. A selection of the photo are on exhibit at a gallery in West Hollywood, California until Sunday. Or you can support the all-volunteer project by purchasing a poster.

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