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  • Before March, 2011, I was a photographic retoucher

  • based in New York City.

  • We're pale, gray creatures.

  • We hide in dark, windowless rooms,

  • and generally avoid sunlight.

  • We make skinny models skinnier, perfect skin more perfect,

  • and the impossible possible,

  • and we get criticized in the press all the time,

  • but some of us are actually talented artists

  • with years of experience

  • and a real appreciation for images and photography.

  • On March 11, 2011, I watched from home, as the rest

  • of the world did, as the tragic events unfolded in Japan.

  • Soon after, an organization I volunteer with,

  • All Hands Volunteers, were on the ground, within days,

  • working as part of the response efforts.

  • I, along with hundreds of other volunteers,

  • knew we couldn't just sit at home,

  • so I decided to join them for three weeks.

  • On May the 13th, I made my way to the town of Ōfunato.

  • It's a small fishing town in Iwate Prefecture,

  • about 50,000 people,

  • one of the first that was hit by the wave.

  • The waters here have been recorded at reaching

  • over 24 meters in height,

  • and traveled over two miles inland.

  • As you can imagine, the town had been devastated.

  • We pulled debris from canals and ditches.

  • We cleaned schools. We de-mudded and gutted homes

  • ready for renovation and rehabilitation.

  • We cleared tons and tons of stinking, rotting fish carcasses

  • from the local fish processing plant.

  • We got dirty, and we loved it.

  • For weeks, all the volunteers and locals alike

  • had been finding similar things.

  • They'd been finding photos and photo albums

  • and cameras and SD cards.

  • And everyone was doing the same.

  • They were collecting them up, and handing them in to

  • various places around the different towns for safekeeping.

  • Now, it wasn't until this point that I realized

  • that these photos were such a huge part

  • of the personal loss these people had felt.

  • As they had run from the wave, and for their lives,

  • absolutely everything they had,

  • everything had to be left behind.

  • At the end of my first week there, I found myself

  • helping out in an evacuation center in the town.

  • I was helping clean the onsen, the communal onsen,

  • the huge giant bathtubs.

  • This happened to also be a place in the town where

  • the evacuation center was collecting the photos.

  • This is where people were handing them in,

  • and I was honored that day that they actually trusted me

  • to help them start hand-cleaning them.

  • Now, it was emotional and it was inspiring,

  • and I've always heard about thinking outside the box,

  • but it wasn't until I had actually gotten outside of my box

  • that something happened.

  • As I looked through the photos, there were some

  • were over a hundred years old,

  • some still in the envelope from the processing lab,

  • I couldn't help but think as a retoucher

  • that I could fix that tear and mend that scratch,

  • and I knew hundreds of people who could do the same.

  • So that evening, I just reached out on Facebook

  • and asked a few of them, and by morning

  • the response had been so overwhelming and so positive,

  • I knew we had to give it a go.

  • So we started retouching photos.

  • This was the very first.

  • Not terribly damaged, but where the water had caused

  • that discoloration on the girl's face

  • had to be repaired with such accuracy and delicacy.

  • Otherwise, that little girl isn't going to look

  • like that little girl anymore, and surely that's as tragic

  • as having the photo damaged.

  • (Applause)

  • Over time, more photos came in, thankfully,

  • and more retouchers were needed,

  • and so I reached out again on Facebook and LinkedIn,

  • and within five days, 80 people wanted to help

  • from 12 different countries.

  • Within two weeks, I had 150 people

  • wanting to join in.

  • Within Japan, by July, we'd branched out

  • to the neighboring town of Rikuzentakata,

  • further north to a town called Yamada.

  • Once a week, we would set up our scanning equipment

  • in the temporary photo libraries that had been set up,

  • where people were reclaiming their photos.

  • The older ladies sometimes hadn't seen a scanner before,

  • but within 10 minutes of them finding their lost photo,

  • they could give it to us, have it scanned,

  • uploaded to a cloud server, it would be downloaded

  • by a gaijin, a stranger,

  • somewhere on the other side of the globe,

  • and it'd start being fixed.

  • The time it took, however, to get it back

  • is a completely different story,

  • and it depended obviously on the damage involved.

  • It could take an hour. It could take weeks.

  • It could take months.

  • The kimono in this shot pretty much had to be hand-drawn,

  • or pieced together, picking out the remaining parts of color

  • and detail that the water hadn't damaged.

  • It was very time-consuming.

  • Now, all these photos had been damaged by water,

  • submerged in salt water, covered in bacteria,

  • in sewage, sometimes even in oil, all of which over time

  • is going to continue to damage them,

  • so hand-cleaning them was a huge part of the project.

  • We couldn't retouch the photo unless it was cleaned,

  • dry and reclaimed.

  • Now, we were lucky with our hand-cleaning.

  • We had an amazing local woman who guided us.

  • It's very easy to do more damage to those damaged photos.

  • As my team leader Wynne once said,

  • it's like doing a tattoo on someone.

  • You don't get a chance to mess it up.

  • The lady who brought us these photos was lucky,

  • as far as the photos go.

  • She had started hand-cleaning them herself and stopped

  • when she realized she was doing more damage.

  • She also had duplicates.

  • Areas like her husband and her face, which otherwise

  • would have been completely impossible to fix,

  • we could just put them together in one good photo,

  • and remake the whole photo.

  • When she collected the photos from us,

  • she shared a bit of her story with us.

  • Her photos were found by her husband's colleagues

  • at a local fire department in the debris

  • a long way from where the home had once stood,

  • and they'd recognized him.

  • The day of the tsunami, he'd actually been in charge

  • of making sure the tsunami gates were closed.

  • He had to go towards the water as the sirens sounded.

  • Her two little boys, not so little anymore, but her two boys

  • were both at school, separate schools.

  • One of them got caught up in the water.

  • It took her a week to find them all again

  • and find out that they had all survived.

  • The day I gave her the photos also happened to be

  • her youngest son's 14th birthday.

  • For her, despite all of this, those photos

  • were the perfect gift back to him,

  • something he could look at again, something he remembered from before

  • that wasn't still scarred from that day in March

  • when absolutely everything else in his life had changed

  • or been destroyed.

  • After six months in Japan,

  • 1,100 volunteers had passed through All Hands,

  • hundreds of whom had helped us hand-clean

  • over 135,000 photographs,

  • the large majority — (Applause) —

  • a large majority of which did actually find their home again,

  • importantly.

  • Over five hundred volunteers around the globe

  • helped us get 90 families hundreds of photographs back,

  • fully restored and retouched.

  • During this time, we hadn't really spent more than

  • about a thousand dollars in equipment and materials,

  • most of which was printer inks.

  • We take photos constantly.

  • A photo is a reminder of someone or something,

  • a place, a relationship, a loved one.

  • They're our memory-keepers and our histories,

  • the last thing we would grab

  • and the first thing you'd go back to look for.

  • That's all this project was about,

  • about restoring those little bits of humanity,

  • giving someone that connection back.

  • When a photo like this can be returned to someone like this,

  • it makes a huge difference

  • in the lives of the person receiving it.

  • The project's also made a big difference in the lives of the retouchers.

  • For some of them, it's given them a connection

  • to something bigger, giving something back,

  • using their talents on something

  • other than skinny models and perfect skin.

  • I would like to conclude by reading an email

  • I got from one of them, Cindy,

  • the day I finally got back from Japan after six months.

  • "As I worked, I couldn't help but think about the individuals

  • and the stories represented in the images.

  • One in particular, a photo of women of all ages,

  • from grandmother to little girl, gathered around a baby,

  • struck a chord, because a similar photo from my family,

  • my grandmother and mother, myself,

  • and newborn daughter, hangs on our wall.

  • Across the globe, throughout the ages,

  • our basic needs are just the same, aren't they?"

  • Thank you. (Applause)

  • (Applause)

Before March, 2011, I was a photographic retoucher

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B1 INT TED photo damaged town cleaning water

【TED】Becci Manson: (Re)touching lives through photos (Becci Manson: (Re)touching lives through photos)

  • 2019 114
    VoiceTube   posted on 2013/03/11
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