It will soon be the first anniversary of the huge earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan’s Tohoku region. Hundreds of thousands of images have been taken since the disaster and most of these naturally focus on documenting the scale of the devastation. In my view, little interesting work that goes beyond straightforward visual description has emerged as yet. One of the strongest projects started up immediately in the aftermath of the disaster when the photographer Aichi Hirano decided to distribute disposable cameras to the people in the shelters in the devastated region. He retrieved the cameras, developed the film and published the results at www.rolls7.com. I have written about the Rolls Tohoku project before on the blog and Hirano has continued to add new images to the Rolls website since then.
This week, I discovered another project which is a fascinating companion to Rolls Tohoku. The Memory Salvage Project was started two months after the earthquake by a team of young researchers from The Japan Society for Socio-Information Studies who felt the need to return the photographs which were swept by the tsunami to their owners. A group was set up to gather photographs that were retrieved after the tsunami, to clean them, digitize them, and to attempt to return them to their owners. This could seem like a herculean and perhaps misplaced undertaking given the scale of the problems that people face in the affected areas, but I think it is a wonderful reminder of what photographs can mean to people and how closely they are linked to our memories.
An exhibition of some of the retrieved images took place at Akaaka’s gallery in Tokyo earlier this year and, for any readers in Los Angeles, a second exhibition at Hiroshi Watanabe’s studio is taking place from 8-25 March. Details are on the Lost & Found website.