Just after 2pm on March 11, 2011, a massive earthquake roiled the ground off the coast of Honshu, the largest island of Japan. The earthquake struck reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Ōkuma, Fukushima Prefecture, which initiated standard shut-down routines. However, shortly after, a tsunami swamped the plant and disabled the emergency generators, preventing the critical cooling procedures that would have averted a disaster.
The result was widespread evacuation and the deaths of many Japanese citizens. Japan’s government was widely criticized for its reaction: reports later indicated that thousands of people remained in high contamination areas because the government withheld knowledge about certain radioactive zones. Parts of the landscape in Fukushima Prefecture—areas that many people called “home”—had become toxic.
Picking through the landscape outside of Fukushima several years after the disaster, Florian Ruiz captures the “invisible pain” that radiation afflicts on the natural world. The caption of each image is a number in becquerel (Bq), a unit that expresses atom disintegration per second. Ruiz uses this number as a jumping-off point for subtle digital alterations—broken perspectives, transparent areas—that pay homage to an environment that is in a constant state of decay. “The process reinvents and twists the very landscape, leading to a sort of vertigo or malaise,” Ruiz says, “a threat hidden behind the purity of the white landscapes.”
Jim Casper, editor-in-chief of LensCulture, chose Ruiz’s remarkable series as his juror’s pick in our first Art Photography Awards. Below, Casper describes the subtle details that drew him to The White Contamination.
At first glance, the artful landscape images in Florian Ruiz’s series The White Contamination might resemble old Japanese engravings, filled with jagged tree branches, calm bodies of water, snow-covered mountains and fields, and peaceful distant horizons. But on closer examination, they reveal what appear to be digital glitches and visual stutters — broken images patched together in a way that makes them vibrate with discomfort.
These places are currently off limits to humans as a result of toxic radiation from the nuclear disaster at Fukushima in 2011, and they will remain uninhabitable for decades to come. Ruiz has found a memorable way to make images that convey a sense of poignancy and sadness about this long-lasting silent violence against nature.
See all of the award-winning work by the 38 international photographers selected for the first annual LensCulture Art Photography Awards.