Toshiya Watanabe is a Japanese photographer. He is from Namie-Machi in Fukushima Prefecture – which is one of the regions that has been alerted as the caution zone after the 3.11 Tohoku Earthquake due to the atomic meltdown caused by the tsunami. Here are some of the photographs he has taken continuously since the disaster happened – an incident that cannot be forgotten.
The Past and Present lies in each photo.
How did you get into photography?
The first time I ever used a camera was when I went to a toy store and bought a toy camera similar to HOLGA. Back then super sports cars were really popular and I got into photography when I started shooting these cars with my camera. When I was a highschool student, I was into oil painting and Japanese style painting, but when I became a university student, I had an opportunity to use a camera at one of the classes I took. Since then, I believe that photography is the best way to express myself, and I am continuously creating my artwork.
You said that you use Mamiya6 Camera for your photographs. Do you prefer film over digital? Why do you think so?
For B&W photographs, I use digital more but for color photographs I prefer film for sure. Nowadays, the digital cameras in the market are very high-spec however it seems a little bit too artificial to me – such as the tone of color. As for film, the ton is very soft and it seems much closer to what I actually see with my eyes. Also, I think negative films have a good balance of vagueness that makes the photographs much more real.
Tell us a little bit more about your works on 311 Tragedy. How was it to be in Fukushima taking photographs after the incident?
The photographs I shot this time are all from Namie-Machi in Fukushima Prefecture, which is also my hometown where I was born and raised. I left this town when I was 18 to go to university but a lot of my friends and family did live there. My parents’ home – the house that I spent my childhood years was located 8 km away from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Station. Due to the atomic meltdown caused by the earthquake and tsunami, the whole area had become a restricted area where no one is allowed to go in.
3 months after the disaster in June, I was allowed to enter this area for a very limited time so I decided to bring my family’s photo albums from the house. I took as many pictures of my home town as I could, not to make it all dramatic but to record the moments when we were happy living in that same town.
And the the completed art work was “3 months later”.
Since then, we are now allowed to enter the area for a few times a year. I took my mother to the house that we used to live and moved all the important and memorable belongings in the car, cleaned the house that has been destroyed by the earthquake and took some photographs of the town.
Your ‘Thereafter’ series consist of photographs of Fukushima in June 2011 and 2012. What was your intention of taking doubles at one year interval?
Since the 3.11 Earthquake, I have visited my home town 7 times.
It feels like time has stopped. Whenever I visit, I get the impression that time is passing by on a different time axis. I wanted to show the flow of time and the time that has been accumulated since this disaster – which became the “Thereafter”. The time period between each of the 2 pictures are all different but I have combined with some pictures that I took before the 3.11 earthquake.
How did your life and thoughts change after the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster?
The history of one town, city that has been created by so many people through hundreds of years can be destroyed in just one second. I realized that a normal day, everyday life is such an invaluable, irreplaceable moment.
Many of us grew up with the science fiction genre of Japanese Manga and Anime that showed scenes similar to those in your photos. The difference is your works are documentation and not fiction. Did you draw this comparison too?
I guess the scenery that I have taken where there is no one in the town, may be similar to science fiction scenery. However, I have never shot these photographs with the intention of making them look like Japanese Anime or Manga.
What is the most memorable story from your entire photography career?
One time, I wanted to take the scenery of Northern part of the world and decided to travel from Vladivostok to Moscow in Russia using the Siberia Railway. Heavy snow of Siberia were very beautiful and somewhat reminded me of my hometown as well. The photographs taken during this trip is planned to be called as “Frozen”.
You can see some of them here
What usually becomes the inspiration for your photography works?
I do not always make this and that to become my direct inspiration but I’m usually inspired by books, scenery, music and many different kinds of things. Maybe thinking about why these things have somehow reached my mind, heart and soul, is something that inspires me to create my artworks.
Do you plan to keep taking photographs in Fukushima? What are your plans for future projects?
I am planning to continue this project until people are allowed to go back home in the restricted areas.
Do you have any recommendations for those who are just entering the photographic industry?
This is not an advice but more of what I believe. I think even in daily life, there are so many beautiful things around you. I try to face these ordinary scenery and moments with fresh perspectives so that I don’t miss my chance to shoot beautiful moments.
Note: Toshiya Watanabe used his own camera, Mamiya 6, for these photographs. Visit his website for more of his photographs. Images are with permission from Toshiya Watanabe.