Munemasa Takahashi

Portfolio published in ArchivoZine 18 - The Archive, In the Age of Visual Culture.

Lost & Found Project

Until the day of March 11th 2011, all the photos we have here today were in people’s homes.

After the earthquake hit, a massive tsunami swept away houses, and everything that was inside them. Coastal towns were buried in rubble. Cars, clothes, refrigerators, photo albums: everything was swallowed up and turned to waste as people stood speechless.

As the search for survivors ended and attention turned to the clean up mission, Self-Defense forces, firemen, and policemen who were in Tohoku to help survivors began to pick up photos they found in the mud, and to store them in an elementary school gymnasium. They were not asked to do it, nor did they have a clear sense of their objective. Perhaps they were just desperate to find something in of the rubble that could be saved. Over time, the gymnasium began to fill up with salvaged photographs.

Two months after the earthquake hit, a group called the “Memory Salvage Project” began to sort out the photos and prepare them for return to their owners. The images were cleaned and digitized by volunteers who came from Tokyo and other parts of Japan.

The images varied in condition, from relatively clean to damaged beyond recognition. Some of the photographs you see here were so badly eroded by bacteria that they could not be cleaned, and therefore could not be returned. But each of these images, kept in a drawers or cabinet, was someone’s treasured memory until that fateful day.

We all take photographs. A few special ones are cherished, and the rest forgotten. We take pictures when we are having fun, when we want immortalize a moment shared with another person. The photographs you see here were also taken under those circumstances. The depth of emotion might vary from snap to snap, but each one captures a point in time that somebody wanted to keep.

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.


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