Many of the photos found after the tsunami were damaged beyond recognition — scarred by the same waters that swept away many of the people depicted in them.
Munemasa Takahashi, a young photographer based in Tokyo, volunteered to join a project titled “Memory Salvage” that had been launched by a professor at Otsuma Women’s University to clean and scan photographs that had been recovered by search teams in Yamamoto-cho, Miyagi Prefecture, in a bid to return them to their owners.
Takahashi and his team cleaned and digitised more than 750,000 photos that had been salvaged in the small town near the prefectural border with Fukushima, returning about 300,000 of them to their respective owners. However, Takahashi was torn about what to do with the images left in what he called the “hopeless box.” Many were heavily damaged and the people featured in them were by and large unrecognisable. Takahashi ultimately decided to put the photos on display in an exhibition format because he wanted people to see them face to face.