With the recent devastation in Moore, Oklahoma from massive tornadoes and the merciless blow aimed at New Jersey and spilling over to New York last year from Hurricane Sandy, many lives were turned upside-down, homes obliterated, and photographs destroyed. However, after any endured devastation comes the laborious rebuild. Humans are resilient creatures, always picking up the broken pieces after they’ve shattered. Insurance assists with material possessions, but no insurance policy will cover your photographs. For that, there is Operation Photo Rescue.
Operation Photo Rescue (OPR) is a network comprised of professional photojournalists, as well as amateur graphic designers, digital photographers, image restoration specialists and more volunteering their time and services to the cause. At no cost to the photograph’s owners, OPR will take and restore photographs damaged by unanticipated circumstances such as natural disasters and house fires. Since 2005, over 2,000 volunteers located in over 49 countries have been helping to repair and restore thousands of photographs that were thought to be completely ruined.
“It’s sad,” said Susan Antonelli in a video created by The Weather Channel (below) in spring of 2009 after her photographs had been ruined by massive flooding at her home in Galveston, Texas, “it’s a feeling that it’s lost forever.” Holding back threatening tears, Antonelli explained that over six feet of water had soaked her family’s most cherished photographs, causing almost instantaneous molding. Thrilled upon hearing that OPR would be coming to Galveston, Susan took full advantage of the opportunity.
After an Operation Photo Rescue field group creates the initial digital copy of the affected photograph, a volunteer receives it and thus begins the long restoration process. Since most restorations require many hours of labor, it’s typical for a photograph to come back within two to three weeks; however, the results are amazing and extremely impactful.
The generous volunteer who restored Susan’s beloved photographs recalls her heartfelt reaction within the video interview, “Susan Antonelli that came in today, she said, ‘I want to thank you, my father is dying of pancreatic cancer; he’s in the hospital. I took this up to him and it meant the world to him.’”
Susan also expressed her extreme appreciation and respect, “the type of person who can take another person’s memories and rebuild them a micro inch at a time to make a picture whole again… oh my goodness, it was just a boom.”
As humans, we learn to cherish things that carry sentimental value. Memories are precious and fleeting moments, and photographs allow us to remember, honor, and reminisce of these moments. Pictures are also a vital piece of a family’s history harboring invaluable importance. They are a way to revisit the past, representing time we can never get back and, often, loved ones lost. Operation Photo Rescue allows these memories to live on long after Mother Nature attempts to erase them; the only payment accepted is the overwhelming gratitude from her victims.
View the full video produced by Jim Gagne at The Weather Channel below.