In her seminal essay On Photography, Susan Sontag writes: “Photographed…
Operation Photo Rescue is an organization that provides aid for what insurance doesn’t cover: damaged photographs. Hundreds of volunteers from 76 countries worldwide and all 50 states in the U.S. work to restore prized pictures that have been damaged by severe weather and natural disasters.
How it works
Mostly operating in the virtual world through PhotoShelter’s Multi-User account, photo restorers worldwide are able to upload and share their restored images, and get the finished product back to their rightful owners in a timely and efficient way.
On their 2-3 copy runs per year in various locations across the U.S. (usually related to where terrible storms have occurred), Operation Photo Rescue (OPR) looks for a public space – library, university, local company, etc. – to assemble their volunteers. OPR sends out press releases calling for people to submit their damaged photos, as well as to attract local volunteers.
At the copy run, volunteers take photos of of the damaged photos – no scanning, to reduce dust particles – and upload these images to PhotoShelter. Then OPR retouching volunteers can begin selecting photos they’d like to work on.
“We let the volunteers make requests rather than assigning photos out,” says Victoria Walters, Volunteer Coordinator. “That way each volunteer can choose which photos fall within his or her skill set.”
The volunteers continue to upload their work in progress so they can receive feedback along the way. Once the photo is fully restored, a distributor reviews it for quality and determines if it needs additional improvements or if it’s ready for printing. Once the photos are complete they’re uploaded to DigMyPics, which donates their printing services, and then they are mailed to the original owners.
Margie Hayes, now the President of OPR, started out just wanting to help one woman she saw on the front page of her local Kansas newspaper the day after a flood. “This woman was in a wheelchair holding her completely ruined wedding pictures – her husband was deceased and she just looked so devastated,” says Margie. “Since I’d been taking graphic arts and Photoshop courses, I contacted the newspaper saying I wanted to offer her my services, but they couldn’t find her.”
In the meantime, Margie decided to brush up on her retouching skills. She was visiting Katrin Eismann’s website to purchase her book, “Photoshop Restoration and Retouching,” where she stumbled upon an ad for OPR and quickly found that there was a whole volunteer-based organization that shared her same desire to help others who had photos in need of saving.
Among these like-minded individuals were Mike and Pat Sluder, a couple from Michigan (who also found out about OPR through Katrin Eismann’s book). Like Margie, the two started out as hobbyists who just wanted to help. They had no idea how involved they would become down the line – Mike is now the Community Relations Director and Pat is the Volunteer Coordinator.
“Although it was my anticipation and hope that my involvement with OPR would have a positive impact in the lives others, I had no idea how profound that impact could be until I participated in my first of several copy runs,” says Pat. “I personally copied the photos brought in by a mother who told me they were the only photos she had of her son who died at the age of 14. We met families clutching photos that they felt sure were a lost cause, only to be moved to tears after hearing us tell them, ‘No problem, we can fix that.’”
Mike agrees: “Pat and I delivered the Canton, Ohio restored flood pictures and the look on face of that one person was priceless.”
OPR’s webmaster, Tess Cameron, operates all the way from Australia. Although she can contribute from afar and fulfill her responsibilities as webmaster effectively, there are still some things that the connections of the virtual world can’t provide.
“I think the biggest challenge for me is being in another country and unable to help on the ground. I admire OPR and the people that started it so much. Those that now manage it are such a wonderful example of what the World Wide Web can do,” says Tess. “I would love to one day be able to participate in a copy run.”
How you can volunteer
So no matter where you are, you can be a part of Operation Photo Rescue – the team of volunteers is growing every day and able to seamlessly work together in the virtual world. And while the Internet is immensely helpful in carrying out the organization’s operations, the general consensus is that nothing is more fulfilling than a good old-fashioned, in-person copy run.
Learn more about OPR and how you can get involved here.