TikTok photographer’s powerful photo restorations tell the stories of Black love, community and culture
Joy is an important word to photographer and restoration artist Samia Minnicks, whose work is affecting millions across TikTok.
“Joy is a fundamental part of the human experience, and it is something that I strive to capture in all of my work,” Minnicks told In The Know By Yahoo.
“It is the feeling that comes from knowing that, despite the challenges and struggles that we all face, there is still so much to be grateful for and so much beauty in the world.”
And it is joy that Minnicks strives to capture in all her work — whether she’s photographing a wedding, or lovingly restoring photos from the past.
Minnicks first began her professional journey as a restoration artist when she came across old family photos in dire need of restoration. “I couldn’t help but wonder about the people in the photographs, their stories and their journeys,” she recalled.
Since then, Minnicks has helped bring loved ones’ memories back to life for families across the country by carefully restoring their old photos — a project that’s become a passion.
“The most rewarding part of this process is the privilege of seeing the joy it brings to those who have lost loved ones. [I] cherish each opportunity to connect with the past and keep history alive.”
In early 2022, Minnicks began posting time-lapse videos of her photo restoration process to TikTok as @SMPrestores — where her work quickly went viral, gaining millions of views and thousands of emotional comments.
“Wow powerful, I love this,” one TikToker commented.
“These restorations show so much love. I get teary-eyed at every one you do,” another comment read.
“It makes my heart happy [imagining] how these people in the photos would feel seeing their memories restored,” wrote another TikTok user.
“This actually brought me to tears, it was like watching someone come back to life,” read one comment.
Minnicks believes this emotional response to her work is due, in part, to the power of photography as an art form.
“[Photographs] allow us to remember and honor our past, and to connect with our shared human experience in a profound way. When a photo is restored, it’s as if we are bringing the past to life once again,” she explained.
“When TikTokers say that photo restoration work gives them chills and brings them to tears, it’s a testament to the power of this art form and its ability to touch our hearts and souls.”
For Minnicks — whose TikTok bio includes the mission statement, “Telling the stories of Black love, community and culture thru photo restoration” — her photo restoration time lapses aren’t just viral videos with millions of likes, but a way to celebrate Black love and life.
“For me, it is a way to give voice to a part of history that has often been overlooked or neglected. I recognize the power and importance of representation, and the impact it can have on communities and individuals,” she said.
“By highlighting the stories of Black love, community, and culture, I hope to not only celebrate the richness and diversity of African American history but also to educate and inspire others. … [My work] is an opportunity to give voice to the often-unseen stories of the African American experience, to celebrate the resilience and beauty of Black love, community, and culture, and to help shape a more inclusive and equitable future.”
Whether Minnicks is photographing a special event for families in the present, or lovingly restoring a photograph from the past, her work is about more than just preserving memories for families. Without saying a single word, her work is a powerful visual tool for change, empowerment and equality.
“My primary goal is to use my art to amplify the voices and experiences of Black individuals and communities. I believe that there is tremendous power in visual storytelling, and I hope to use my work to celebrate Black love, joy, and accomplishments, while also highlighting the challenges and injustices that Black people face,” she explained.
“By capturing Black memories, families, and resilience, I aim to create a space where Black individuals can see themselves and their stories reflected in a positive and empowering light. Ultimately, my hope is that my work will contribute to a broader movement towards social justice and equality, and that it will inspire others to see the beauty and value in Black lives.”
But Minnicks’s restoration work isn’t limited to TikTok videos. For those looking to restore their own treasured but timeworn photos, Minnicks offers her skills via her website.
“There are so many Black people without access to photos of past generations, and this skill gives me an opportunity to connect with people’s past and help them to keep memories of their loved ones alive,” she said.
“For individuals who have lost or never had access to photographs of their ancestors, the ability to restore an old photograph can be incredibly powerful and emotionally significant. It’s an honor to have the skill set to commemorate the lives and memories of those who have come before us and to help preserve their stories for future generations.”
For Minnicks, photo restoration isn’t just about fixing the physical damage to the image — but also about preserving the stories and memories of the people who appear in them.
“When I work on a restoration project, I feel a deep connection to the individuals in the photo, and I try to imagine their lives and experiences in that moment. While I may not have the opportunity to meet the people behind the camera, I believe that their presence and personality can often be felt through their eyes,” she explained.
“For me, restoring a photo is a way of honoring the people and stories that it represents, and I feel a sense of responsibility to do justice to the original image and to the individuals it portrays.”
As a photographer herself, Minnicks understands the power of visual storytelling — and of preserving special family memories for future generations.
“Knowing that my work will be treasured by someone’s great-great grandchild is an incredible feeling, as it means that I am not only creating beautiful images, but also helping to preserve personal and family histories,” she said.
“To me, there is nothing more fulfilling than knowing that my photographs will continue to be cherished and shared for generations to come.”
Minnicks hopes that her work will serve as a bridge between the past and the present — “connecting individuals with the rich history of their families, communities, and cultures.”
“I hope [my work] inspires people to seek out and preserve the photographs and stories of their ancestors, and to pass those stories down to future generations. I hope this gives people a reason to go through their grandmother’s chest of photos, to ask questions, hear stories and build a deeper connection with their roots,” she explained.
“I like to consider my work a call to action to help ensure that these stories are not lost or forgotten — but rather recognized and embraced.”
Whether behind the camera, or in front of a computer, Minnicks’s work all comes back to joy — a feeling she says brings us closer to our shared experience on this planet.
“To me, joy is not just a fleeting emotion, but a state of being that comes from a deep sense of gratitude and contentment with one’s life. … Whether I am photographing a wedding, a family or a portrait, my ultimate goal is to capture the essence of joy in all its forms, and to help people see the beauty and light that exists within themselves and in the world around them,” she said.
“Joy is about finding meaning and purpose in life, and about building connections with others that bring us closer to our shared humanity.”
Thanks to Minnicks’s powerful work, we’re all a little closer to that joy.
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