Alexandra Back • Canberra Times • March 16 2016 – 7:27PM
Originally published in the Canberra Times

Family photos were scattered everywhere when Nicole Francois’ home in Granada was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

Some were drowned in pools of water, others scratched and some, surprisingly, still hung to the wall though the subjects were now difficult to discern.

James Walters. Photo: Melissa Adams

James Walters. Photo: Melissa Adams

The photos were wiped down and boxed away while the family rebuilt their lives.

Years later, Ms Francois had returned to Canberra where the family had lived while her father completed his PhD at ANU. She visited Granada in 2014 where she came upon the damaged photos, held onto by her parents in hope.

“They were just sitting in boxes getting mouldy and dusty, instead of being on display, and I knew my mother especially really missed having those photos displayed around the house,” Ms Francois said.

Restoration of hurricane damaged photo

She made it her mission to have them restored. She chose a few favourites to bring home to Canberra, including a family portrait that was taken in a Grace Brothers store in the capital more than 20 years ago.

Back home, she searched for photo restoration services. Some said they could repair the photos, but the trade-off was to have them in black and white.

James Walters and his young start-up Vivid Recollection were working out of an innovation space in Civic when Ms Francois approached him for help in 2015.

Originally, Mr Walters echoed what other restorers had said: The project was difficult, and Ms Francois might have to settle for black and white.

But she was determined the photos return to colour, Mr Walters said.

He was only new to photo restoration work. A graphic designer for 10 years, Mr Walters had discovered a box of family negatives at his father’s 60th birthday party and taught himself how to restore the images digitally.

When presented to his family, the restored photos got this “incredible response”. “And I thought, gee, there’s something in this”, Mr Walters said.

Restoration of hurricane damaged photo

As business piled up, even from overseas, Mr Walters realised he had found a niche – in a world where everything lives online – restoring printed photographs.

“Everything’s is so mechanical and digitised

[nowadays], people are really craving tangible family connections and memories,” he said.

“There’s also an enormous growing interest in family histories and that sort of thing, a nice mix of the digital and high tech and also that very personal and almost sort of handcrafted [product].”

Most restorations take a few hours, but some of the more challenging can take more than 10, sometimes ending up a “virtual drawing”.

Ms Francois’ family was “overjoyed” to have the photos back. And as her mother was visiting at the time, she was able to bring them home.

They were amazed to have the photos restored, Ms Francois said, and her mother especially liked how the photos taken in Canberra had also been fixed in Canberra.

Mr Walters said the reaction from people seeing memories saved kept him going.

“My background as a graphic designer, doing a logo or brochure, I never had this sort of response. But it’s actually lovely to have those broad smiles and that deep satisfaction of a job well done.”

“Every project is unique and personal, rather than being mass-produced.”