No-go zone

The amaz­ing im­ages from a pho­to­shoot in Fukushima

NPhoto - - Front Page - To see more im­ages from the No Go Zone project, go to www.fukushima-no­go­

Sev­eral years be­fore the earth­quake, tsunami and nu­clear re­ac­tor melt­down which hit Fukushima in 2011, I ar­rived in Ja­pan as a free­lance pho­tog­ra­pher and cam­era­man for French TV. After the nu­clear plant was dam­aged, I cov­ered the cri­sis ev­ery day for at least six months. On re­turn­ing to France I got chat­ting with my col­league, Car­los Ayesta, and we de­cided to do photo es­says on dif­fer­ent as­pects of the dis­as­ter. It was my idea to pho­to­graph for­mer res­i­dents of what be­came the no-go zone in their for­mer work­places, or the res­tau­rants and shops they fre­quented. About three to four years after the dis­as­ter, the gov­ern­ment started to al­low people back for a cer­tain amount of time, so we were able to pho­to­graph them in their for­mer haunts.

This be­gan as a per­sonal project, though we did get fund­ing from Chanel for an exhibition, which is tak­ing place later this year. I’d nur­tured quite a few con­tacts in the Fukushima area – some of my sub­jects had been in­ter­viewed be­fore for news pro­jects – and then we used lo­cal fix­ers. First of all we would try to find a suit­able lo­ca­tion, then we’d try to track down the people as­so­ci­ated with th­ese lo­ca­tions. That was the re­ally tough part. Some­times it was hard getting past the lo­cal bu­reau­cracy; at other times we’d find the per­son and they wouldn’t want to re­turn. Even­tu­ally we shot a mix­ture of people who were ac­tu­ally in that place when the tsunami struck – such as the hair­dresser – and for­mer in­hab­i­tants who used to go to that shop or su­per­mar­ket, but weren’t there on the ac­tual day. None of them were ac­tors or mod­els, how­ever, and they all had in­ter­est­ing sto­ries. We fo­cused on the con­se­quences of the dis­as­ter, rather than the catas­tro­phe it­self and what caused it. First of all we would try to find a suit­able lo­ca­tion, then we’d try to track down the people as­so­ci­ated with th­ese lo­ca­tions. That was the re­ally tough part

Most of the sub­jects had al­ready been back to the no-go zone. If the ra­di­a­tion is low, any­one can go back, but as for per­ma­nently re­turn­ing, nearly all of our sub­jects were against the idea. There is noth­ing there for them. The gov­ern­ment has spent a lot of money on de­con­tam­i­na­tion, but the ra­di­a­tion can still be high.

Shelf life

Many people like the im­age of the woman in the su­per­mar­ket best, but my favourite picture is the woman in the print­ing shop. She was a great per­son. The su­per­mar­ket was re­ally im­pres­sive, though. We went there in March 2014, three years after the dis­as­ter, and the smell was ter­ri­ble. There was no light ex­cept for a small win­dow, so we needed ar­ti­fi­cial light.

Tech­ni­cally, the project wasn’t that hard. We used Nikon D800 and D810 SLRs, as we love the high res­o­lu­tion, with a 35mm por­trait lens. Ex­tra light came from two Bowens flash­heads fired through a soft­box, and we used nat­u­ral light as well. For the guy in the restau­rant, we put the flashes outside to recre­ate sun­light com­ing through the win­dows. We used min­i­mal post-shoot pro­cess­ing.

The re­ac­tion to the se­ries has been very pos­i­tive, but it’s bet­ter known over­seas than in Ja­pan. As I men­tioned, there will be a ma­jor exhibition this sum­mer in Tokyo, so that should raise aware­ness.

Some people might think it’s a bit sen­sa­tion­al­ist, which I can un­der­stand – if you go to Fukushima to­day, you can’t see any­thing wrong in 80 per cent of the pre­fec­ture. For our next project, we want to focus on the de­con­tam­i­na­tion work­ers and their ef­fect on the lo­cal econ­omy. Iron­i­cally, there are so many clean-up work­ers, that the econ­omy is still de­pen­dent on nu­clear en­ergy, even though the re­ac­tors have closed.

Guil­laume’s own favourite shot, of a print shop worker in her for­mer of­fice For this shot, studio lights were used to recre­ate sun­light com­ing through the win­dows Three years after the dis­as­ter, now-spoiled food still lies on the shop shelves

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