In March of 2011, the biggest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl occured in the Tōhoku region of Japan. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear diaster was caused by an earthquake and then resulting tsunami — three major hydrogen explosions occurred on site over the course of three days.
The devastating string of events caused thousands of deaths, and over 100,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes in the Fukushima Daiichi area.
Photographers Carlos Ayesta and Guillaume Bression were on the ground on the days after the diaster, documenting the horrific events — but their more recent, on-going project is a breathtaking series of staged photographs of locals returning to the “no-go” zone.
The two’s series, “Retracing Our Steps,” which is currently raising funds for a printed book via Kickstarter, brings locals back to their abandoned homes and local businesses — acting as normal as possible, given the tragic circumstances. Below, see their striking work.
For this series, Bression and Ayesta wanted to answer the question 'What do the former residents think about going back to their ghost towns?'
'From the beginning we wanted to do something in between documentary and staged photography,' Bression told Business Insider.
Having been on the ground during the time of the events, they understood the delicate nature of this particular work.
'Trying to do an artistic project on such a sensitive crisis was really difficult but we wanted to show the area surrounding the plant in an other way than what we did when we where covering the crisis for news coverage,' said Bression.
'We shot all the pictures of this project in the evacuated area surrounding the Fukushima plant -- in the cities of Futaba, Okuma, Namie, Iitate, Tomioka, Naraha, Odaka, Kawauchi, and Katsurao,' he said.
While beginning the project, Ayesta and Bression realised that photographing with artificial lights highlighted the desolation.
'We went together on the fields in the no-go zone surrounding the Fukushima plant maybe 3 months (in advance before shoots). Each time the preparation was really long. In order to find the right place, and convince the inhabitant to go back there with us was quite difficult,' said Bression.
For this series, the two wanted to show what the 'inhabitant has to face when they are coming to the place were they used to live,' said Bression.
'For different reasons, the Japanese government is putting a lot of effort to convince people to go back there. But most of the area has been closed for almost 5 years now and as long as the time goes by, it is more and more difficult for them to come back,' he said.
'That's why we asked former residents or inhabitants from the Fukushima region, and in some cases, the actual owners of certain properties, to join us inside the no-go zone and open the doors to these ordinary, but now unfriendly, places,' he said.
'If you live there, it can be a problem -- but for photographers going there for only few weeks, the accumulated dose of radioactivity is not an issue,' said Bression.
The two strive to stay neutral on the radiation debate. 'We don't want to say if we are pro or anti-nuke. We just want to illustrate the consequence of this kind of accident, and what you can see when you are going there is that for those families it is huge,' said Bression.
Their work also aims to remind viewers not just of the nuclear disaster, but the tsunami and earthquake that also ripped apart the area.
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