Volunteer group in Hiroshima cleans photos from areas hit by torrential rain to preserve precious memories


Yutaka Ito is leading a volunteer effort in Hiroshima to clean photographs that were blemished during torrential rain in the city and other parts of western Japan last month, including those buried in landslides.

A photo studio in Hiroshima received a cardboard box filled with albums in late July. The photos contained pictures full of fond memories for families whose homes were damaged in the disaster.

Ito and four others washed the dirty photos one by one with water and calligraphy or paint brushes, and then dried them, in order to prevent deterioration. When exposed to dirt, the surface of a photographic print is broken down by bacteria, erasing the image.

The studio has received dozens of damaged photos from people around the prefecture. Ito and his coworkers have also received many phone calls from people affected by the disaster inquiring about how to clean dirty photos.

Ito, 45, took his lead from similar efforts by volunteers in the wake of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. After learning about the volunteers who cleaned photos of families affected by the disaster, Ito obtained a manual on how to clean photos in order to prepare for a day when he might need it.

After Hiroshima was hit by landslides in 2014, Ito contacted local high schools and other institutions with which he had connections due to his work taking pictures at events, and offered to provide any support he could. He ended up cleaning about 2,600 photos.

Many of the photos Ito’s group are handling are pictures of school events or evoke family memories. One day, he was thanked for preserving the only family pictures of a boy in his youth.

Ito finds the effort rewarding. “The work helped me regain an awareness of how precious photographs are (to families),” he said.

“We are the last bastion for protecting the memories of families,” Ito emphasized. “We must do this.”