Family Photo Rescue saves photographs damaged during Hurricane Ida with free retouching services

Published 6:06 pm Wednesday, September 22, 2021

LAPLACE — Family Photo Rescue is underway in LaPlace, giving locals access to free image retouching services that can save precious family memories damaged during Hurricane Ida.

The service will continue from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 25 at the 1811 Kid Ory Historic House, located at 1128 Highway 628 in LaPlace.

Individuals are invited to submit up to 20 images to be restored and retouched for free. A team of local photographers working with the non-profit Operation Photo Rescue will begin the process by making digital copies of photos and placing them in cloud storage. Volunteers across the country are able to access the cloud storage, restore photos, and mail new prints to the original owners.

The Family Photo Rescue team working in LaPlace includes former Times-Picayune photographers John McCusker, Kathy Anderson, Ted Jackson, Doug Parker and Matthew Hinton, freelancers Derick Hingle and Edmond Fountain, and Associated Press photographer Gerald Herbert.

Herbert was inspired to bring the initiative to St. John the Baptist Parish after seeing how Hurricane Ida damaged District Attorney Bridget A. Dinvaut’s treasured family photos.

Dinvaut and her sisters, Bonnie and Billie, took great care in protecting the precious photographs. They even relocated them from 29th Street in Reserve to Indigo Parkway in LaPlace, believing the latter was a safer location. The photographs were kept up high in a sealed container during the storm, but the force of Ida’s flooding caused everything underneath the box to collapse and sent the photos toppling into the water. The images were soaked, and the color completely ran off of many photos.

“When I was talking to Gerald, it inspired hope that we could save some of those memories. For our generation, all we had was photographs, and that was our source of connectivity,” Dinvaut said. “That tangible item gives you a source of good feelings and conversation. To be able to save that and talk about that keeps generations connected.”

Dinvaut said the photographs represent happy memories of her grandparents and great-grandparents, but they are also a reflection of the challenges her ancestors persevered through.

“They had to face challenges during that time period, and their character and effort were passed on to us,” Dinvaut said.

LaPlace resident Holly Faucheaux brought four damaged photographs to the 1811 Kid Ory Historic House Wednesday morning – two photographs of her maternal grandfather, a photo of her husband and father-in-law, and her and her husband’s 36-year-old wedding portrait.

“There were other pictures that we threw out before we knew this event was going on, but these were the most precious,” Faucheaux said.

As Hurricane Ida tore through LaPlace, Faucheaux and her family spent hours holding a two-by-four against a downstairs window to keep it from blowing out. In the process, they realized wind was already whipping through the house from a window that blew into their master bedroom upstairs. Rain poured into the room, soaking the master bedroom and bathroom and eventually dripping through the ceiling to the bottom floor. All of her photos were soaked, and some started growing mold after the storm.

“This is one of the only images I have of my wedding day. These are the only images I have of my grandfather, and that means a lot. I was close to him,” Faucheux said.

Photographer Kathy Anderson said she and other former members of the Times-Picayune staff helped restore photos in St. Bernard Parish in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina 16 years ago.

“We had a line of about 100 people just clutching their photos, and it was so heartbreaking and so rewarding when you could actually salvage them,” Anderson said.

Photographers are typically the ones who document devastation after a hurricane, and Anderson said it means a lot to contribute to something positive.

“As a photographer, I covered Katrina, Laura, some of Ida, and you feel kind of helpless. We want to help, and this is a way to help,” Anderson said. “It’s so important. When you have photos of your grandparents and great-grandparents, those are the things that are passed down from generation to generation.”

Photos make memories real, according to John McCusker, former Times-Picayune photographer and founder/managing director of the 1811 Kid Ory Historic House.

“Your parents can tell you stories about your great-grandfather and your great-grandmother, but when you can actually look at those faces, it quantifies it in a way that isn’t there otherwise. You can look at that person and maybe see your eyes in their eyes. It’s a record of life lived,” McCusker said.

While families are concerned with immediate needs such as getting gas, finding food and getting their kids back to school, other impacts of the hurricane such as damage to family photos can fall by the wayside.

“When all of this is over, you’re going to miss the photos. People have enough going on right now, so they can bring their photos to us. We’ll handle it, and we’ll do our best to save your memories,” McCusker said.

Operation Photo Rescue cannot handle negatives at this time. Large photos and small prints in color or black and white are accepted. If a framed print has water damage, please keep it in the frame, as it might come apart when taken out.

When sorting through water-damaged family photos, remember to do so outside or in a well-ventilated area, and use gloves and a mask.