February 3, 2006
Written by Rusty Dennen
FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — The photographs–some with water stains, some so faded the faces in them appear like ghosts–come in tattered albums. They arrive in warped frames, or with no coverings at all.
Free Lance-Star photographer Rebecca Sell and Dave Ellis, the newspaper’s photo-assignment editor, examine each one to see if it can be salvaged.
At a drop-off point they’ve set up in the temporary library in Pass Christian, Miss., they clean up the pictures that can be saved, make digital copies and hand restored photos back to their grateful owners. At no charge.
Welcome to Operation Photo Rescue, the brainchild of Ellis, who figured professional photographers could help victims of Hurricane Katrina in a way that no one else can.
Across the Gulf Coast, where the monster storm wiped out people’s lives, homes and livelihoods, it also took away many of their memories in the form of pictures–family albums, snapshots of people on vacation, prom pictures, formal poses.
Pass Christian, a town of about 6,500 west of Gulfport near the Louisiana state line, was one of the areas hardest hit by Katrina, where a wall of water surged inland.
Sell, 24, traveled to the Gulf Coast twice last year to cover the aftermath of the storm. On her last trip in December, she took a photograph of a woman in New Orleans who found a cherished, but damaged, picture in the rubble outside her home.
When Ellis saw it, something clicked, and Operation Photo Rescue was born.