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Recovering The Memories: Working To Find And Restore Photographs Lost During Superstorm Sandy
November 26, 2012
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Imagine losing your house to a natural disaster: of all your possessions, which ones would you want to protect the most?

For a lot of people, the answer is: their photographs. Unlike many more expensive objects, a photograph is highly personal and irreplaceable.

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When superstorm Sandy swept across the Eastern Seaboard, it destroyed a lot of homes and properties, and with that a lot of photographs.

Jeannette Van Houten's house on the shore of Union Beach, New Jersey was damaged by the storm, along with 200 others in her neighbourhood. She went out walking in the aftermath of the storm, and found a photograph a young couple attending a wedding.

At that moment, she realized what she had to do.

Van Houten started collecting photos and uploading them to a Facebook page. The idea was to help people, who had lost precious pictures, reclaim them.

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So far, she's uploaded more than 2,000 photos to the Facebook page, and 60 families have been reunited with their pics.

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The effect of suddenly seeing a photo you thought you'd lost can be pretty intense, according to Union Beach resident Leeann Lewandowski.

"The first thing I see on my Timeline is my mother holding my daughter, Katie, on the day that she was born. I'm usually very cheery person, but I absolutely crumbled," she told CNN.

Van Houten has a very personal understanding of the power of photographs.

"Photos are the only things that hold us to the past. My niece was murdered in 2008 and the only thing we have left of her is our photos," she said.

Other people who have found their family photos on the Facebook page, like Union Beach resident Pamela Vasquez, have now joined Van Houten in her search for more lost pictures.

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And similar projects are popping up in other storm-damaged areas. Jeannie Esti recently started the For Shore Photos Project, asking residents and cleanup volunteers to gather photos displaced in the storm.

But Van Houten and Esti aren't the only people working to restore photographic memories.

Brooklyn-based freelance creative director Lee Kelly founded CARE for Sandy, the Cherished Albums Restoration Effort, on November 10.

For people whose photographs were not lost but sustained serious water damage, CARE is offering free digital restoration.

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CARE held its first photo scanning event November 20 in the Rockaways area of Queens. And the idea has caught on with photo retouchers: so far 125 people from around the world, including Canada, Brazil, and Ukraine, have offered up their services.

At the events, families can have up to 100 of their favourite photos scanned. Then, they'll be retouched and emailed back.

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It could take a while: Kelly says restoring a single image can take as long as 20 hours depending on how severe the damage is.

One person who's taken advantage of the CARE service is Kevin Dolan, a retired firefighter who brought in seven photos, including one taken on his wedding day 40 years ago.

"I was very happy when I heard they could restore some of the photos that I had that did get water damaged," Dolan said. "I know my wife will run out and get new frames."

Related:

U.S. Benefit Concert Featuring Bruce Springsteen Raises $23 Million For The Victims Of Hurricane Sandy

This New Orleans Neighbourhood Came Back Greener And Cleaner After Katrina; Could It Work For Places Damaged By Sandy?

After The Storm: Officials In New York & New Jersey Warn Of Potential Housing Crisis As Weather Gets Colder

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