The photos shown above, as well as the others interspersed throughout the text of this entry, are all part of a remarkable project that's been unfolding in southwestern Missouri. As you can see, most of these photos have been damaged, some of them severely. That's because they were all whisked away in the devastating tornado that hit the town of Joplin in May of 2011. A project called the Lost Photos of Joplin, organized by a church in the neighboring town of Carthage, has been collecting them, archiving them, and attempting to return them to their owners.
The photos -- more than 35,000 of them -- were found in four different states. Some of them ended up in Paducah, Kentucky, more than 350 miles away. Some are professional portraits; others are amateurish snapshots; many were wet and dirty when they were found. But all have been treated like the precious family artifacts they are. As of mid-April, 15,563 of them had been claimed.
The Lost Photos project has cleaned and scanned all of the photos and uploaded them to Flickr and also to the project's own website, where Joplin residents (or, um, journalists who happen to be interested in found objects) can view them. If Joplin residents see photos on the site that belong to them, they can fill out an online form to claim them. The project also periodically holds "claim days," during which Joplin residents can come and search through binders of photos.
(My thanks to reader Jeff Whitener for bringing this one to my attention.)