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Arai Takashi, “April 26, 2011, Onahama, Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture,” from the series ‘Mirrors in Our Nights’ (2011) (all images courtesy Museum of Fine Arts Boston)

One of art’s greatest functions might be the way it helps us share our common experiences, though those experiences are sometimes all too tragic. That was the case in 2011, when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck the country’s Tōhoku region, stirring up a powerful tsunami that damaged the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant and killed about 25,000 people.

But as In the Wake: Japanese Photographers Respond to 3/11 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston shows, art also offers a way for society to come to grips with such disasters. Curated by Anne E. Havinga and Anne Nishimura Morse, together with research fellow Tomoko Nagakura, the show features about 100 photographic images created by 17 established and emerging Japanese photographers in the months following the “triple disaster,” as the events are now known.

Each image shows its photographer processing the catastrophe in his or her own unique way. Some approached it as documentarians. Kōzo Miyoshi and Naoya Hatakeyama both took sweeping photos of twisted railway tracks, flattened homes, and hacked-up forests. Takashi Homma photographed wild fungi, a common ingredient in Japanese dishes that became charged with meaning after the disaster, its form recalling the nuclear cloud that burst over Hiroshima.

Others dealt with the tragedy more abstractly. Shimpei Takeda exposed radiation in his surroundings through autoradiography, a process that resulted in irking but beautiful tableaus. Masato Seto, one of the few photographers to enter and photograph Fukushima in the days after the leak, printed his images negatively in black-and-white — to a ghostly effect. Still others approached the medium in a way that mirrored the earthquake’s destructiveness, as Nobuyoshi Araki did when he cathartically scratched up 283 negatives of his own images.

Four years after the disaster, more than 100,000 people are still displaced. While the photographers of In the Wake can’t speak for them, their images do offer a safe space where wounds can heal, and where scars can begin their slow fade.

Kikuji Kawada, “Morning Glow” (2011)

Shiga Lieko, “Rasen Kaigan (Spiral Shore) 46” from the series ‘Rasen Kaigan (Spiral Shore)’ (2011)

Nobuyoshi Araki, “’11 6 2” (2011)

Kitajima Keizo, “October 17, 2011, Ōfunato, Miyagi Prefecture” (2014)

Miyoshi Kôzô, “2011:04:02, Minamisanriku, Motoyoshi, Miyagi Prefecture” from ‘North East Earthquake Disaster Tsunami 2011 Portfolio’ (2011)

Seto Masato, “Untitled” from the series ‘Cesium’ (2012)

Shiga Lieko, “Rasen Kaigan (Spiral Shore) 45” from the series ‘Rasen Kaigan (Spiral Shore)’ (2012)

Daisuke Yokota, “Untitled” from the series ‘Site/Cloud’ (2012)

Shimpei Takeda, “Trace #16, Lake Hayama (Mano Dam)” from the series ‘Trace’ (2012)

Shiga Lieko, “Portrait of Cultivation” (2009)

Ishu Han, “Life Scan Fukushima” (2013)

Naoya Hatakeyama, “2013.10.20 Kesen‐chō” from the series ‘Rikuzentakata’ (2013)

Takashi Homma, “Untitled” from the series ‘Mushrooms from the Forest’ (2011)

In the Wake: Japanese Photographers Respond to 3/11 continues at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (465 Huntington Avenue, Boston) through July 12.

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Laura C. Mallonee

Laura C. Mallonee is a Brooklyn-based writer. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU and a B.F.A. in painting from Missouri State University. She enjoys exploring new cities and...

One reply on “Photographers Bring Home a Picture of Fukushima”

  1. Japan has ability to replace atomic plants with life and environmental friendly alternative energy generators! Majority people also demand for safe source, but government don’t hear and care for unknown reasons! Many of my friends say, Japanese government is very democratic, but silence on the issue as it is linked with black world of Uranium business and geopolitics! Personally, my family is Atomic victims. We are evicted from Fukushima after radiation to safe children life and health from atomic-harms! Now we are living in Sado! My youngest son, ‘Koon’ becomes by born refugee! Although we don’t have economic and shelter crisis, but have invisible suffering! It is a big tragedy to live without relatives and friends after-left own house as ‘atomic refugee’. I keenly feel bad on the living of relatives with risks and atomic-fear in Fukushima! The Parents-in-laws don’t want to left house in old-age! As there is no alternative, now we are living in Island and trying to be citizen of Sado-shi, Niigata, Japan.

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