Curatorial Projects > (re)collection (2012)

(re)collection – A collaboration with Lost and Found: Family Photos Swept by the 3.11 East Japan Tsunami

A group exhibition featuring new work by seven artists – Mark Baugh-Sasaki, Ariel Goldberg, Mayumi Hamanaka, Taro Hattori, Sean McFarland, Kari Orvik, and Kelli Yon – made in response to the thousands of photographs recovered from the city of Yamamoto, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, after the devastating earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

September 12 – October 27, 2012
Intersection for the Arts
San Francisco, CA

Eyewitness accounts described Yamamoto as "one of the worst-hit areas" with no houses left undamaged. The artists’ new work were installed alongside these photographs, which are part of a travelling project called Lost and Found: Family Photos Swept by the 3.11 East Japan Tsunami, organized by Japanese photographer Munemasa Takahashi in the months following the disaster to help raise awareness of the continuing relief efforts in Japan. This exhibition looks at how much photography is a part of our lives, the universality of photos, and the tragedy of when those moments, emotions, and memories captured in photographs are swept away in an instant. “After the disaster occurred, the first thing the people who lost their loved ones and houses came to look for was their photographs,” Takahashi says. “Only humans take moments to look back at their pasts, and I believe photographs play a big part in that. This exhibit makes us think of what we have lost, and what we still have to remember about our past.” This exhibition was organized in part by Ivan Vartanian, an independent curator and publisher based in Tokyo, Japan.

The magnitude 9.0 undersea megathrust earthquake that occurred off the east coast of Japan on March 11, 2011 (referred to as the 2011 Tohoku earthquake) triggered massive tsunami waves that in some areas reached heights of over 130 feet and travelled up to 6 miles inland. Coastal towns were utterly destroyed. Entire houses, cars, refrigerators, clothes, televison sets: everything was swallowed up by the tsunami and turned to waste. As the search for survivors ended and attention turned to the clean-up mission, firefighters, police officers, and military troops began to pick up photos they found in the mud and gathered them in an elementary school gymnasium. No one asked them to do it, nor did they have a clear sense of their objective. Perhaps they were just desperate to find something in the rubble that could be saved. Over time, the gymnasium began to fill up with thousands of salvaged photographs.

Two months after the earthquake, a group called the Memory Salvage Project began to sort through more than 750,000 photograph to determine which ones could be cleaned, scanned, touched up through graphics editing programs, and entered into a database that would allow survivors to try and find their lost photographs. Although many photographs were saved in this manner, many were also so badly damaged by water and eroded by bacteria that the images are barely recognizable. The photographs from Lost and Found: Family Photos Swept by the 3.11 East Japan Tsunami that will be on display represent just a small fraction of the photographs recovered from the region. They are a symbol of devastation and the irreparable decimation to not only the land but also to the thousands upon thousands of lives that have been altered or lost. These images range from barely damaged prints to near complete erasure, a parallel to the memories that were lost on that fateful day.

- Kevin B. Chen