In March 2011, we were distraught by the sight of the no man’s land around the nuclear power station. In the city center of Odaka, about fifteen kilometers away from the power station, time had suddenly come to a standstill. A couch had been left in the middle of the road, a cat was watching from a mud-covered windowpane as though in anticipation of its owners’ return, old-fashioned music continued to resound from a laundromat’s interior. These details recalled the urgency with which the 80 000 residents of the no-go zone had fled, a territory of a radius of 20 km around the Fukushima Daiichi site having been evacuated in just a few days. Still, we came across the odd inhabitant in the midst of these deserted towns: residents in masks and radiological protection suits running about in panic, police officers who were a bit lost, not knowing what instructions to give, or a breeder trying to save his famished horses. Several of his horses, abandoned for several weeks due to the evacuation, were housed in this stable that had been largely destroyed by the seism and tsunami. For our part, we moved forward, eyes riveted on our dosimeter: “So this is what a nuclear accident is like.” Six months later, we wanted to convert this initial shock into a personal artistic project. “Fukushima no-go zone” was born. This long-term work was to go on for six years and took us to the forbidden zone of Fukushima multiple times.
Our first photograph was taken in December 2011. Equipped with radiological protection suits and passes, we were able to cross the checkpoint 20 km away from the power station. As journalistic and artistic activities within the no-go zone were strictly limited, we had the threat of a police arrest hanging over us.
Throughout our work in Fukushima, fear of the authorities was finally superseded by fear of radioactivity, which in our view represented a less tangible and immediate danger.
Late in the evening, we arrived at Tomioka train station, 7 km away from the nuclear power station, which had been entirely submerged by the tsunami. In between the rails, our headlamp lit up the husk of a car. This unexpected apparition—in our eyes, symbolic of the tsunami and the inhabitants’ evacuation—gave rise to the first photo in the “A No-man’s Land” series. And, in a certain way, it set the tone for all of our photographic work.
Since then, we have been applying ourselves to unfolding, one by one, the consequences of this nuclear disaster, the most serious since the Chernobyl accident in 1986: towns and rural areas emptied of their inhabitants, the fear of radioactivity, the difficult matter of going back, nature that is reclaiming its rights in the absence of humans, and the astronomical quantities of polluted waste issuing from the decontamination campaign launched by the Japanese authorities.
This photographic work is our contribution to the narrative of a historic disaster. The accident is far from being over, either at the power station or among the nuclear refugees. And we hope to continue to testify to this sad but also multifaceted page of the Fukushima region’s history.
Carlos Ayesta - Guillaume Bression
Born in Caracas-Venezuela, Carlos is a freelance photographer based in Paris-France, specializing in architectural photography and images taken from high ground. Among others projects, he completed a project using rope and harnessed around the neighbourhood of “La Defense”. His work was exhibited in 2012 at the Forum des Halles and at Paris City Hall as part of the SFR Young Talents & Exhibition "Doisneau, Paris Les Halles".
A graduate of the ISAE and IFP School, Guillaume completed his transition to photography in 2008 after specialized training in Paris. In 2009, he founded the photography collective Trois8 with Carlos Ayesta, with whom he has collaborated on several artistic and documentary projects. Their work has been exhibited in several galleries and festivals in Europe. Guillaume settled down in Japan in 2010 as a freelance photographer and cameraman.
Carlos Ayesta and Guillaume Bression have been working on the issue of the Fukushima exclusion zone for the past five years. This work has been exhibited at « Circulation(s)", "Photaumnales", « Fotofever », « Les photographiques - Le Mans » and « Voies Off – Arles » festivals between 2012 and 2015.
In 2015, they were awarded of the 5th edition contest “Sophot.com” for the documentary photography and shown at the gallery “Fait & Cause” in Paris. They were selected in the competition "Environmental Photographer of the Year" in UK and they were finalists of the European Publishing Award for Photography.
A retrospective of this work about Fukushima exclusion zone will be shown at Chanel Nexus Hall gallery in Tokyo in June 2016.