The exhibit greets you as soon as the elevator doors open. Black and white photos within thin black frames give glimpses into the disaster that struck Japan on March 11th last year. According to the report compiled by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, the earthquake, subsequent tsunami, and huge emission of radioactive material from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station left more than 20,000 people dead or missing, and a large area contaminated by radioactivity.
Fukushima 3.11: After One Year features a collection of 48 photographs, the work of Ryuichi Hirokawa and Takashi Morizumi, that give scenes and faces to the headlines and news stories we read this time last year.
The opening of the exhibit welcomed more than 40 people to the fifth floor gallery at New York University’s Institute for Public Knowledge. The sponsoring organizations included Human Rights Now, an international human rights NGO based in Tokyo, Peace Boat, a Japan-based international non-governmental non-profit organization, and various departments within NYU.
Two young boys, one seven and the other eleven, spoke about their experience evacuating the affected area around the Fukushima nuclear plant, their adorable Japanese interpreted by a Human Rights Now representative.
Eleven-year-old Yuri Tomizuka (above) was at his elementary school in Kooriyama city when the earthquake hit Japan at 2:46 p.m. “All of us hid ourselves under the desks to protect us. Some of my friends burst into tears in fear,” he said
Both families decided to evacuate immediate after the accident at the power plant, for their children’s health.
“I believe it was good for us to have evacuated because I’m afraid of becoming ill,” Tomizuka said.
The other boy (above), only seven-years-old, missed attending his kindergarten graduation ceremony after evacuating, and now only sees his father once a month because he had to return to Fukushima for work.
“I got frightened when I heard that we don’t know how bad the current radiation level in Japan could harm the human body,” he said, “I wonder why grownups haven’t thought that it might happen in their own country in the future… I will study hard and want to be a responsible grownup who protects children and the earth.”
The photos within the exhibit focus on these radiation effects the two boys spoke about. The first sets you encounter are primarily ones of wreckage; suited emergency crews surveying the damage of warped asphalt roads and destroyed buildings. Nearly all of these photos are in black and white and all are the work of Ryuichi Hirokawa. There’s a real focus on the animals and agriculture affected by the radiation. Hirokawa even includes a photo of an escaped ostrich in profile, greeted by a radiation inspector within the affected area.
The main room, featuring 20 color photos by Takashi Morizumi, was more centered on the aftermath: a crowd of angry village members raising concerns against the operators of the damaged nuclear plant, stacks of newspapers on the day after the disaster that remained undelivered months later, and angled shots of radiation detectors in hot spots. Here too, there’s a focus on the agriculture and animals affected. There’s a photo of a white rabbit born without ears as a result of the radiation, carcasses of abandoned horses, and an antithetical idyllic landscape of a contaminated rice field.
Emilie McGlone, the Director of the sponsoring organization Peace Boat, pointed out that the Indian Point nuclear plant is just as close to New York City now, as these families were to Fukishima. “Take the time to read the captions on the photos,” she said, “It’s important that we understand the affects of radiation.”
Fukushima 3.11: After One Year is currently on view at NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge on the fifth floor of 20 Cooper Square until May 31st. Photo ID is required to enter the building, but entrance to the gallery is free.
Also read Claire McCurdy’s Women of Fukushima Against Nukes