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Scott Geffert, assisted by Sharron Diedrichs (left) and Diana Mathura, catalog photos accepted for restoration by Operation Photo Rescue.
PHOTOS BY RICHARD DREW/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Date published: 2/5/2013
NEW YORK--Of all the images of Superstorm Sandy's destruction, the ones that linger for Florence Catania are the torn, stained pictures that hung on her walls.
Her mother's decades-old wedding portrait, her own eighth-grade graduation photo, a snapshot that captured her mom on a carefree teenage day, all damaged in a Sandy-sparked fire at Catania's home in suburban Deer Park, N.Y.
But volunteers scattered around the world are about to start digitally mending Catania's personal photos and others battered by Sandy, banding together online to restore items that can't be rebought.
Founded after Hurricane Katrina, a nonprofit network of photographers, graphic artists and hobbyists has repaired more than 9,000 pictures discolored by floods, pockmarked by debris, speckled by mold and otherwise damaged by disasters in recent years. The Sandy project, which started this weekend, promises to be one of Operation Photo Rescue's most expert efforts yet.
"It means a lot to me," Catania said after bringing her photos to the restorers Saturday. "These are irreplaceable."
The restorers began shooting digital copies of the damaged prints with high-resolution professional cameras and specialized no-glare lighting Saturday at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, wearing white gloves to handle the images as though they were museum pieces.
Indeed, a Metropolitan Museum of Art imaging expert and two of the museum's photo conservators were on hand to provide advice. Two of the camera setups had been used to help the Atlanta-based King Center digitize hundreds of thousands of documents associated with Martin Luther King Jr.
After Catania left with her original prints, Operation Photo Rescue veteran Dennis McKeever glued himself to a computer screen, delicately copying snippets of forehead, sections of background, and overlaying them on similar, damaged areas of the wedding photo. Within about a half-hour, the retired computer network engineer had sewn up a sizable gash in the portrait and was testing settings that might provide more visual data to help clean the apparently sepia-toned image.
"It's a matter of feeling your way through things," said McKeever, who has restored more than 100 photos through the group.
Other digital files would be uploaded to a password-protected website, where Operation Photo Rescue's roughly 3,000 volunteers can choose images they'd like to work on.