How does one photograph radiation? Trauma? Or the resilience of communities forced to contend with both? Picturing the Invisible brings together seven celebrated photographers to examine the lasting legacy of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster.
Declared the ‘worst crisis Japan has faced since World War II’ by Prime Minister Naoto Kan, the earthquake and tsunami killed more than 15,000 people and triggered a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant – forcing 200,000 people from their homes. This exhibition captures how, even today, vast swathes of land remain uninhabitable: the contamination of plants and soil made visible to visitors through technical means. However, it also explores how efforts to decontaminate the region continue. The exclusion zone is slowly shrinking and as evacuation orders are lifted, residents are being incentivised to return home. Few choose to do so – and many of those who do are old. One village found that only a third of its residents chose to return and more than 70% of them are over the age of 65. Those who do return discover that few wish to buy food ‘made in Fukushima’, posing an additional challenge for traditionally agricultural communities. This exhibit provides an intimate portrait of the peoples rebuilding their lives in the affected territories. It examines their memories of disaster, their continued contact with radiation, and their efforts to reclaim their heritage.
The photographs are complimented by a series of short essays, provided by policymakers, experts, and activists united in their deep engagement with the “triple disaster” and nuclear issues. Contributors include: Sir David Warren (British Ambassador to Japan, 2008–12); Science and Technology Studies pioneers, Sheila Jasanoff (Harvard) and Brian Wynne (Lancaster); Japanologists, Richard Samuels (MIT) and Brigitte Steger (Cambridge); ICRP Vice-Chair Jacques Lochard; best selling author, Robert Macfarlane (Cambridge); and famed environmentalist, Aileen Mioko Smith (Director, Green Action and co-author of “Minamata: A warning to the world”).