Documenting Disaster

It has been two and a half years since the nuclear power plant Fukushima Daiichi exploded. But the attention span of the international media is short. The story dropped from the headlines just a few months after the disaster, even as many acknowledged that the effects of radiation continue longer than human lives.

Each time I returned to Fukushima since the accident, I did not see a process of development and regeneration but unchanging stasis. The government has labelled the still emergency situation “Normal” because it is in a stable (though stagnant) state. 

On my first visit to the region, I witnessed the sudden death of the region. Then, over time, I saw how the area lost its color and became leaden, dulled. During my last trip, in the summer of 2013, I realized that I had grown used to the situation as it was. It had somehow become normal to me. Upon realizing this, I felt the color returning to the region.

Today's Fukushima

March 11 will mark the 3-year anniversary of the accident. I believe it is time to recognize that an unchanging emergency situation is not a "Normal" situation.

Today, the most obvious remaining issue is that of contaminated water leakage into the Pacific Ocean. At the voting ceremony for the 2020 Olympic Games, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proudly said, “the contaminated waters have been blocked inside the port of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant”. Just a few days later, the Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide said the port has not been blocked, leakage is still very much a problem.

For this project, I only used a large format camera since I wanted to be very selective about the fragments I chose. The medium also required that I take a long time preparing each shot. This forced me to only take pictures of things or situations that were slow-moving. Since the radiation will stay for decades, I found my medium effectively conveyed some of the impact of this disaster.

—Kosuke Okahara