When the tsunami and earthquake struck the Tohoku coast on March 11th many people lost their lives and loved ones. Many that survived lost their homes and with them the memories of the lives they had lived and the people that didn’t survive. Like the wedding photo in the image above, these mementoes to that time are irreplaceable and their loss must be incredibly painful. Nothing is quite as sad as seeing these orphaned mementoes lying in the mud. The tsunami carried houses and belongs far from the places they were once cherished. There have been attempts to reunite people with these reminders of their lives before that day, but for most the Spring rains and Summer’s bleaching sun have erased those faces and happier times forever.
The people of Tohoku are strong, indeed they have been able to carry on despite destruction and loss that would defeat most but it is hard for them to start building lives again that have no foundation in the memories they have lost. Just as the images fade and run in the unclaimed photos, the faces of the lost must also be fading in the minds of those left behind; which makes any memories they make know, any photos that show those they still can love, doubly intense, important and precious.
Which is where the photographer Brian Scott Peterson comes in. Setting up Photohoku a short time ago he is regularly travelling north to give gifts of cameras and photo albums to the people trying to make new lives there. He also take his own photos of the people that survived and donates the prints so that they have the beginning of a new set of memories to carry with them into an uncertain future.
He is not exactly giving them their memories back, that is hard to do, but he is giving them some new ones and a place where they can keep them to see this time of stress, sadness and stoicism from a future that is hopefully easier and less raw than now. You might ask why they would want to record this time in their lives but it seems obvious to me. As time advances the tragedy of March 11th will fade and with it the forgetting of the events and the people that filled that time before. While looking back at their time in a refugee centre or temporary shelter may seem masochistic or taking pictures of the remains of your house may seem morbid and unhelpful to us, each of these harsher memories must have attached to it the gentler reminders of a person who was lost; even a bad memory keeps alive a good one. They will also be able to remember the troubles shared and the emotions that sprung from this time as they become unexplainable to others, and though overwhelming on occasion, these emotions will be keenly felt in the sense of togetherness that was important at that moment even as the children grow and leave home and the old people die and disappear.
Anyway it’s a good project with a generous and talented leader. A worthy cause worth supporting if you have any old cameras or can do something like webdesign, or sort out the paperwork hassles of setting up a charitable foundation within the labyrinth Japanese legal system.
Here’s the Photohoku web address again. http://photohoku.org/