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Fukushima Exclusion Zone

In March 2011, we were distraught by the sight of the no man’s land around the nuclear power station. In the city center of Odaka, about fifteen kilometers away from the power station, time had suddenly come to a standstill. A couch had been left in the middle of the road, a cat was watching from a mud-covered windowpane as though in anticipation of its owners’ return, old-fashioned music continued to resound from a laundromat’s interior. These details recalled the urgency with which the 80 000 residents of the no-go zone had fled, a territory of a radius of 20 km around the Fukushima Daiichi site having been evacuated in just a few days. Still, we came across the odd inhabitant in the midst of these deserted towns: residents in masks and radiological protection suits running about in panic, police officers who were a bit lost, not knowing what instructions to give, or a breeder trying to save his famished horses. Several of his horses, abandoned for several weeks due to the evacuation, were housed in this stable that had been largely destroyed by the seism and tsunami. For our part, we moved forward, eyes riveted on our dosimeter: “So this is what a nuclear accident is like.” Six months later, we wanted to convert this initial shock into a personal artistic project. “Fukushima no-go zone” was born. This long-term work was to go on for six years and took us to the forbidden zone of Fukushima multiple times.

Our first photograph was taken in December 2011. Equipped with radiological protection suits and passes, we were able to cross the checkpoint 20 km away from the power station. As journalistic and artistic activities within the no-go zone were strictly limited, we had the threat of a police arrest hanging over us. Throughout our work in Fukushima, fear of the authorities was finally superseded by fear of radioactivity, which in our view represented a less tangible and immediate danger.

Late in the evening, we arrived at Tomioka train station, 7 km away from the nuclear power station, which had been entirely submerged by the tsunami. In between the rails, our headlamp lit up the husk of a car. This unexpected apparition—in our eyes, symbolic of the tsunami and the inhabitants’ evacuation—gave rise to the first photo in the “A No-man’s Land” series. And, in a certain way, it set the tone for all of our photographic work.

Since then, we have been applying ourselves to unfolding, one by one, the consequences of this nuclear disaster, the most serious since the Chernobyl accident in 1986: towns and rural areas emptied of their inhabitants, the fear of radioactivity, the difficult matter of going back, nature that is reclaiming its rights in the absence of humans, and the astronomical quantities of polluted waste issuing from the decontamination campaign launched by the Japanese authorities.

This photographic work is our contribution to the narrative of a historic disaster. The accident is far from being over, either at the power station or among the nuclear refugees. And we hope to continue to testify to this sad but also multifaceted page of the Fukushima region’s history.

The Erasure series presented in TRANSFER is a record of the abandoned streets of Fukushima; swallowed up by nature. Within a radius of 20 km around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, several years have now elapsed since the earthquake. Houses and buildings which were forcibly parted from their owners have been left as they were and many lie in ruins. What we saw were entire artifacts; not only houses but also roads and cars overrun with vegetation. Within an environment where people no longer live, the speed of this propagation eliminates virtually all human footprints.

Posted
11.Sep.2020 304 views
Author
Ayesta Bression Carlos Ayesta & Guillaume Bression

Carlos Ayesta (Caracas, 1985) and Guillaume Bression (Paris, 1980) develop documentary photography projects together since 2009. In 2011, they begin a long-term collective work on the Fukushima disaster. They will be exhibited from 2013 in the festivals Circulation(s) and Photaumnales. In 2015, they are laureates of the 5th edition of the SOPHOT competition and exhibit at the gallery Fait & Cause in Paris. Finalists of the “Environmental Photographer of the Year” competition in the UK, then of the best European photography book award (EPAP). The work on Fukushima will lead to a retrospective at the Chanel-Nexus Hall in Tokyo in 2016. They will then be awarded the Prix Découvertes at the Rencontres photographiques d’Arles in 2017. For more than two years, they have been working on a long-term documentary project on Venezuela that will be in line with the one in Japan.

https://www.fukushima-nogozone.com/

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