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Dave Ellis, the photography director at The Free Lance-Star of Fredericksburg, Va., and Rebecca Sell, who was then a photographer at the paper, launched Operation Photo Rescue in 2006, after Katrina struck the Gulf Coast the previous summer.

The group now counts volunteers in all 50 states and 75 other countries, about 50 to 100 of whom are very active, Hayes said.

It has responded to tornadoes, flash floods and tropical storms around the United States, amassing a gallery of before-and-after images that span generations: a formal childhood portrait, rippled and flecked with dirt. A black-and-white image of a Victorian-style mansion, faded to a hazy peach. A 1970s or `80s wedding photo, so waterlogged it looked as though the couple’s faces had been scribbled on with crayons. Someone cradling a dog, the apparently decades-old snapshot splotched with a chemical yellow.

“We’re really trying to restore people’s family memories and community memories,” said Katrin Eismann, an SVA professor. While she co-wrote the book that guides much of the volunteer effort, “Adobe Photoshop Restoration & Retouching,” this weekend marked the first time she participated in person.

“If we didn’t do it, after a while, those prints are just going to disintegrate.”


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