Preserving precious family photos: RTF prof volunteers with CARE for Sandy

Preserving precious family photos: RTF prof volunteers with CARE for Sandy


They are precious moments in time…captured on film.

And Jonathan Mason is helping to make sure that every photo—from Grandmom and Grandpop at Thanksgiving in 1981 to a first Holy Communion in 1979 to graduation day in 1965—is painstakingly restored.

After all, the Rowan University radio/television/film (RTF) professor says, property damaged by Hurricane Sandy can be replaced. But analogue photos of yesteryear, taken before the digital era, just can’t be so easily.

That’s why Mason is volunteering as a managing member of CARE (Cherished Albums Restoration Effort) for Sandy (, an initiative to help victims recover storm-damaged print photographs and, in some cases, even old home movies. Begun by New York-based art director Lee Kelly, a friend of Mason’s, CARE for Sandy is bringing together photographers, photo-restorers and artists from around the world to share their talents to preserve family photos and old home movies damaged by the Oct. 29 hurricane.

A second-year Rowan professor, Mason is coordinating and helping to categorize photo retouchers, who, he says, are volunteering in droves for CARE for Sandy through a website, and Facebook page,

Volunteers have included a retoucher from Ken Burns’ production company, Florentine Films, and Lloyd Kaplowitz, a film archivist who restored “The Godfather” and “Bladerunner.” Volunteers so far have hailed from the United States, Mexico, Sweden, Canada, Italy, Spain, Brazil, The Netherlands and as far away as Russia. They’re all sharing their vast talents to preserve precious family memories.

Volunteers are scanning in victims’ photos at events organized in Sandy-stricken areas such as the Rockaways in New York. The group is then entering them into a common database where retouchers choose the photos they restore based on their level of expertise.

“This project really snowballed in just a couple of days,” says Mason. “Without advertising the program very much, we’ve had a rapidly growing influx of volunteers.”

“A car damaged in the hurricane can be replaced, but, in many cases, these photos are the only mementos of specific and cherished moments in time,” he continues. “There’s something about that that everybody relates to.”

The idea of preserving physical photos is a slowly fading concept now that everything is essentially just data and often stored in several easily accessible digital locations, Mason says. But for those of us not born in the digital era, many of our fondest memories are still on film.

“It’s great,” Mason says, “to see artists stepping up to use their talents to help.”

 “Photos,” the CARE for Sandy website states, “contain deep-rooted significance. Photos preserve stories. Photos foster soul and spirit.”

Mason’s work with CARE for Sandy is just one of many initiatives undertaken by Rowan students, faculty, and staff to assist hurricane victims. For information about University-wide activities, known as Rowan Relief, visit or