Lost & Found: 3.11 Photographs from Fukushima

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Exhibition at Hiroshi Watanabe Studio in Los Angeles (c) Lost & Found Project

This month of March brought the passing of the one-year anniversary of the devastating tsunami which hit the coast of Japan in 2011, laying waste much of the region, in some cases washing away entire villages and causing upwards of 20,000 deaths. Since the disaster, relief efforts came in a variety of forms, but one which humanizes the numerical abstraction of the death toll stuck out in particular.

In the current Aperture magazine issue 206, photography critic and independent curator Mariko Takeuchi writes:

In the cities, towns, and village affected by the disaster, a vast number of personal photographs were salvaged, pulled from underneath rubble and mud by all sorts of people. They were discolored by saltwater and covered with dirt; some were misshapen or even emitted foul odors. With very few exceptions, it was impossible to identify the people who had made the photographs, their subjects, or their owners—if indeed they were still alive.

What began as a small community effort has turned into the Memory Salvage Project, a volunteer organization that has to date recovered and begun restoring 750,000 lost family photographs.

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“Restoration is not just a matter of infrastructure,” Professor Kuniomi Shibata, head of the Memory Salvage Project, says in a video for Discovery Channel, “There are other important things.”

Snapshots were cleaned, numbered and digitized one by one with the help of volunteers who came from all over Japan. At least 20,000 photographs, and 13,000 photo albums have been returned to their owners. Several thousand other images abstracted by natural disaster have been assembled into an evocative and visually stunning traveling exhibition which has been on view in Tokyo and Los Angeles, and is now coming to New York.

Photographer Munemasa Takahashi, one of the leaders of the project tells New Yorker’sPhotobooth why the images on view are so powerful:

After the disaster occurred, the first thing the people who lost their loved ones and houses came to look for was their photographs… Only humans take moments to look back at their pasts, and I believe photographs play a big part in that. This exhibit makes us think of what we have lost, and what we still have to remember about our past.

Lost & Found: 3.11 Photographs from Fukushima will be on view at Aperture Monday, April 2, 2012 – Friday, April 27, 2012.

Aperture Gallery and Bookstore
547 W. 27th Street, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10001
(212) 505-5555

4th January 2005: People returning to their destroyed homes near the wreckage of the train near Tsunami victims near Hikkaduwa, try to salvage precious items. Photo albums were the most commonly collected items. Family members look at a wedding album. Sri Lanka Tsunami. © Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

 

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