The global award in photography and sustainability

Philippe Chancel

Fukushima: The Irresistible Power of Nature

On 7 June 2011, less than three months after the havoc caused by the tsunami in the Tohoku region of northwest Japan and the outbreak of nuclear contamination around Fukushima, I headed north from the line marking the 20 km red exclusion zone around the nuclear reactor. Ten days later, having driven over 500 km and covered even greater distance on the ground in search of an area left intact, I reached the outskirts of Miyako.

What I saw was beyond imagination. The scale of the devastation caused by the tsunami and its impact recalled aspects of the effects of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. In the aftermath of the disaster, I instinctively sought to capture a different reality from the facts themselves – a deeper, underlying reality. The silent suffering, that I saw and felt everywhere I went, was that of a hard-hit country bitterly questioning its cruel destiny. In my quest for emblematic images, I recorded the documentary aspects of the tragedy in a quasi-systematic, serial manner. Using GPS data I reconstructed my journey from satellite photos taken at the same time and captured on Google Earth. This way, my preview research became reality.

This work is part of Datazone, a project that I began in North Korea and the United Arab Emirates, before moving on to Port-au-Prince, Haiti and Kabul, Afghanistan, and that will soon take me even further afield to such places as Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, Baghdad and Barnaul, the Russian city closest to the Altai Mountains. The lack and/or overabundance of images, as well as the broader question of representation, are central to my investigations at the crossroads of art, documentation and journalism. Without being obliged to respond, but simply gaze alone, I seek to provide food for thought on political and philosophical issues confronting the civilisations of the world today.

Philippe Chancel