Yesterday the Nissan Institute hosted two representatives of the Rikuzentakata Disaster Document Digitalization Project, Uchida Takeshi and Matsui Keishi. The RD3 project is a volunteer-driven effort to recover, restore, and digitally share tsunami-damaged photographs, negatives, slides, and glass plates from the completely destroyed Rikuzentakata City Museum and Rikuzentakata Museum of Oceans and Shellfish. The entire staff of the City Museum, curators and researchers alike, and all but one member of the Museum of Oceans and Shellfish died in the tsunami.
Near the end of the Q&A session, a woman in the audience asked the two how, with the amount of material devastation remaining in the area and the ensuing struggles of the population, they can justify spending their time and effort on a project devoted to restoring obscure museum slides. Both Matsui — curator of the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography — and Uchida — a museum database specialist — answered that it was something only they or people like them could do. Uchida added that as a museum specialist, when he hears of museums in trouble, of course he wants to help.
Then Matsui said this:
"In the aftermath of the tsunami, I drove to Iwate and saw the rubble, the ships upended in the streets, with my own eyes. Of course I wanted to do something. But I couldn’t return those ships to the ocean by myself.
"Since the tsunami, there’s been overwhelming and unprecedented volunteer support to help with the restoration of family photo albums. If you’ve lost someone in a disaster, the first thing people look for is the body. The second is photographs. Why do you think that is? Because — at least in Japan — in photographs, people are almost always smiling. Those photographs are a record of happiness.
"But photography is more than that. No one will ever shed tears over what we’re restoring. We’re doing something that probably no one else would bother with. Because what we want to do — the important thing — is to share the work of these researchers who died with the rest of the world."
Donate to the RD3 Project here.