Ricoh's Save The Memory Project

How Ricoh reunited thousands of tsunami victims with their precious photos.

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In 2011, a terrible tsunami swept over East Japan following an earthquake. 

Immediately after the disaster, Ricoh put into action the 'Save the memory' project, which was in place for a period of 4 years until March 2015. The project had one goal: to recover, clean and reunite photos with their owners in the interests of recovery of the people's morale. To date, more than 90,000 images have been reunited with their owners of the 400,000 images recovered. Here, we look at the project in detail and how the process worked. 

Ricoh project 1 

Recovery of damaged photos

Many of the people's precious images were washed away and lost during the tsunami. Images were water damaged, covered in mud and debris and scattered all around the local area. Unfortunately a great number of the images lost would have been taken out to sea. But, those that were retrievable from the ground were collected by Self-Defence Force troops, firemen and police officers who were in charge of clearing away rubble and searching for missing persons. 

The photos were left on roadsides for volunteers and government organisations to collect. Activities were launched to clean the images and exhibit them at local sites. Due to the vast number of images collected, it soon became impractical to display them all and implement speedy and reliable treatment to stop images from deteriorating further. 

The decision was made to clean and digitise the images in a dedicated space, and a Ricoh warehouse with electricity and running water was chosen to be the hub of the activities. The warehouse was nicknamed the 'save the memory factory'. Later on, further factories were opened up and photos gathered from the affected areas were gradually brought to these factories for treatment. 

Ricoh Project 2

Cleaning and drying images

There were several hurdles to overcome when dealing with the damaged images. Not only were they wet and often covered in debris, but bacteria was eating the surface of the images. 

Images were cleaned by hand, one by one in shallow pallets of lukewarm water. Most images had to be washed three or four times to safely remove dirt and debris bit by bit before they were rinsed clean for a final time. Brushes were used to meticulously and carefully remove dirt without scratching or damaging the photo surface. 

After the images had been washed, they were carefully blotted with paper towel to remove any excess moisture then allowed to dry naturally by being attached to a mesh with clothes pins.

Ricoh Project 3

Scanning and digitizing images

The clean and dry photos were then scanned to create digital copies and stored on a computer with an associated control number making it easy to look up and identify photos. Each original image was then stored with a printout of the control number, so it could easily be found on the computer. 

Ricoh project 4

Creating a database

Images were transferred to a PC after the scanning was complete, and images were then trimmed and orientated correctly using free software if necessary. Data was divided into folders according to the region found, and then further divided into image categories such as 'wedding' or 'black and white'. The names of these folders served as tag information when searching. 

The 400,000 images uploaded were stored in a cloud storage service. 

return of images

Returning photos

Once photos had been cleaned and scanned, they were packaged up and sent back to the disaster sites where they were found. Images were placed in sealable plastic bags with the control number on display. Groups of images found in the same album were packaged together. Each box had the series of control numbers contained within it on the front for ease of finding photos. 

photo centres

Establishing photo centres

The images were returned to the areas they were found, but there was a problem regarding access to the images and creating public awareness of what was going on. Working with the council of social welfare, volunteers and temporary staff, locations for centers were established, shelving and computer equipment were loaned or donated and photo centres in several of the affected areas were established. An aggressive PR campaign was created locally to raise awareness of activities and encourage people to come and retrieve their lost images. Disaster victims could now look for lost images from their own PC or visit the centre and use a PC there before collecting images. 

Ricoh project 7

Searching for photos

As well as the ability to browse photos from a PC with ease and search for a specific genre of image, there were a few other innovations used to make finding images easier. Users could also add memo information to a photo. For example if a user comes across an image of a friend, they can tag the friend in the memo information of the photo, so that if they searched the database for their name, that image will appear. 

Clever technology which recognises faces was used to enable people to bring up photos containing the same face once a familiar image was found. At photo centres there was also the ability to have a photo taken and use that photo to search the database to find images. 

Reuniting people with their images

Reuniting people with their images

Once someone found images of themselves or their family, an application could be submitted for the return of the originals. The person's name, gender, date of birth, address telephone number and email address was required. A member of staff would then search the shelves for the original photos an return them. Digital copies of the images were also sent to the email address given. 

 

You can find out more about this fantastic project on the Ricoh website

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Comments


helenlinda Plus
13 366 22 United Kingdom
21 Mar 2015 12:01PM
Restored treasure SmileSmile
Helen

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