When the call came for help with photo recovery, a lot of different thoughts chased each other in my mind.
“BECCI! WYNNE! TREE! YUMI!”
“The family whose daughter was lost…”
“I hope it’s warmer than it was in Rikuzentakata!”
“So glad I got to participate!”
These are just a glimpse (and only a few examples) of what memories and images I summoned. My lovely friend Becci had been contacted by a lady named Ann. Ann had read about the Photo Rescue Japan project, and was hoping that someone could come to upstate New York to show the residents there how to care for their flood-damaged photographs. Last fall, flood waters devastated the area. Recovery is ongoing, but in the meantime, precious memories locked away in pictures were slowly disintegrating. Would Becci or someone be able to help?
Becci put the call out and it was answered. After a lot of emails, facebook messages, and creative arrangement, it was settled. I was headed to New York for the weekend.
It was a flight with a layover in Washington DC, but the reward for an out-of-the-way stop was getting to see the Space Shuttle Discovery with its transport airplane! It was dark (so no photos without a flash came out well), and as anyone who’s tried to take photos with a flash camera from INSIDE a plane window might guess, none of my flash photos turned out. But it was a majestic sight, and one I hope to remember.
I arrived as the last of the party. Becci, Emiko, and Mara were scheduled to pick me up from Binghamton airport. My childish exuberance about seeing friends was instantly subdued as I deboarded the plane. One woman’s family greeted her with terrible news about a relative dying suddenly and quite literally minutes before. There were wails of anguish, tears, and questions. It seemed like everywhere I stood or stepped, I was intruding in their grief, so I tried to sidle away unobtrusively. As I was trying to be somewhere, anywhere else, I spotted another sad sight.
It’s probably the little girl who lives stubbornly on inside of me, but I wanted to scoop that teddy up and take him with me. Such a sad and forlorn little guy! The airport was starting to have a really sad and tragic feel to it. As I sat and waited, the jarring emotions started to feel very familiar. When we worked on the photographs in Japan, emotions crashed upon us in a mad and bewildering rush with regularity. One picture would prompt laughter and giggles, while others would sober up the entire team. It was starting to feel like this was exactly where I was supposed to be, as strange as that may sound. It was just… fitting?
I didn’t have long to wait before my ride arrived. Becci hopped out of one of the largest trucks I’ve ever seen with a great big hug. Inside were Emiko and Mara, both of whom I’d not met before. Introductions were made, and we headed off to our temporary home. There, I was introduced to the loveliest people, Jennifer and Jack, and their secret alien dog, Andy. (Andy seems to stare up through the ceiling and whines at something no-one else can see. Mystifying, he is.) We said our good nights, and shuffled off to bed.
In the morning, we met Ann, who organised the weekend event. All day Saturday and Sunday, people could come to our workspace to learn how to care for their damaged photos. We had equipment set up much like we did in Rikuzentakata: tubs of cold water, exacto knives, scissors, gloves, paper towels*, and lots of clothespins and lines for drying.
We started off immediately, with people arriving even before we were entirely set up. Becci and Emiko got to work assessing damage and demonstrating cleaning techniques, while Mara and one of the local ladies, a named Pheobe, set up the scanning centre.
It wasn’t long before the images resembled our workspaces in Japan, just a little.
As the people arrived with their photos, their stories and their memories arrived with them. Sad, funny, happy, regretful, and more… It seemed like a revelation to me in Japan when I realised this, and it felt once again like a revelation in New York, to realise that we were sharing these peoples’ LIVES as we helped.
More stories and photos to come!
*Funny story about this: Becci asked for help from us to compile a list of needed materials. We recounted what we used in Japan, and she forwarded the list to Ann. Becci’s grasp of American English, and Ann’s grasp of British vernacular, resulted in Becci’s “kitchen towels” being interpreted as something else altogether. What we actually NEEDED were paper towels, and what we wound up with were dish towels (or “tea towels”, as our Brit named them). We all had a laugh about that, and it was decided that Becci needs a proofreader to assist with any future listmaking.