As we saw the reality of the situation in the affected areas, we were once again reminded of the importance of photographs. Among the tremendous amount of items that were salvaged, around 90% were photographs and albums. On each occasion, we felt humbled to see volunteers cleaning the photographs one by one.
In most cases, the area's non-profit organizations, such as the local Social Welfare Council, were in charge of cleaning photographs, whilst members of the "Yuriage Memory Search Group" had arranged to gather and volunteer via the social media site, mixi. As we observed various cleaning operations, we noticed how greatly the progress varied among them; those with strong leaders tended to function more efficiently.
When we visited Karakuwa Gymnasium in Kesennuma for the first time in late May, we saw that numerous photographs and albums were lined up on the floor, waiting to be taken care of. Bacteria and mold had already started to propagate, causing the photographs to slowly start to deteriorate. We knew that cleaning had to commence immediately and tried to figure out how much work could be completed before the summer. At that time, the volunteers were only able to take care of individual photographs and had almost given up on trying to save the photographs in the albums. We remembered what Mr. Takai had said to us as he cleaned photographs in Hashikami:
With this in mind, we arranged to take him to Karakuwa Gymnasium where he spoke with a member from the municipal office in Kesennuma. It was soon agreed that Mr. Takai would take charge of the local photo cleaning operation. Faced with a tremendous amount of photographs and albums, he decided to ask people who he trusted from outside the area to help his staff clean the photographs.
Photographs are, of course, very private objects. When we commenced the project, many people were unwilling to send their precious photographs to someone working far away. However with summer fast approaching, and Fujifilm's activities becoming increasingly recognized, an increasing number of people began to trust us. In response to this, we decided to become involved in the cleaning ourselves, and began to receive photographs at our Kanagawa Factory Ashigara Site, where staff volunteered to clean them.