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Toronto, Ontario, Canada
"To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart. It's a way of life." ~ Henri Cartier-Bresson

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Nuclear Ginza ~ Photographer Kenji Higuchi

Kenji Higuchi  (Born 1937) has been a professor of photography at several institutions in Tokyo, and an instructor at the Nippon Photography Institute ( Nihon Shashin Geijutsu Vocational school). He is the eldest son of a farmer and at the age of 24 took up photography after viewing Robert Capa's famous anti-war photos. He published some of the first images of nuclear workers toiling inside a reactor in 1977. Higuchi's photos mainly depict people and situations associated with nuclear issues and he won a Nuclear-Free Future Award.

Higuchi has documented the struggles of radiation victims and, over a half-century, has written 19 books, including "The Truth About Nuclear Plants" and "Erased Victims." Since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accidents, his work has gained more attention.

The Japanese Tsunami and earthquake have rocked the foundations of the world's nuclear industry.
This film by Nicholas Rohl based on the work of Japanese photo journalist Kenji Higuchi, exposes the exploitation of Japanese 'untouchables' pulled out of the slums of Tokyo and Osaka to work exposed to radiation in the nations nuclear plants. The government is said to have enlisted the help of the Yakuza (Japanese Mafia) to help round up workers.

"Democracy has been destroyed where nuclear power stations exist," says one man.
"It is terrible the only country the nuclear bomb was dropped has produced the same suffering from it's own nuclear power stations," says another.

"Only once was I allowed to take photographs in a nuclear power plant... I will never forget what it was like. The heat and the darkness; the workers stripped naked soaked in sweat. They stood in an oxygen tent gasping for air." - Japanese photographer Kenji Higuchi

 When the Fukushima disaster struck, Higuchi did not grab his camera and drive to the plant; he was exposed to radiation during his last visit to an evacuation zone. But he went to a shelter at an arena outside Tokyo and snuck past a barricade to interview the families.

 Kenji  arrived at the plant one day in July 1977 with three cameras and 15 rolls of film. He took pictures of the workers’ safety routines, changing out of street clothes into bright orange coveralls and masks, and stripping down to their underwear at the end of their shifts and putting their hands and feet into machines that test their exposure.

 74-year-old Kenji Higuchi has focused much of his attention on the nuclear power industry. He took this image of workers on their way to the Tsuruga Nuclear Power Plant in 1977.

 The images he brought back were revelatory to many who had thought that nuclear workers sat in control rooms. One of the most iconic was of three workers emerging from a dark hole near the center of the reactor, wearing heavy boots and gas masks, pushing a dolly

 Higuchi said he wanted to show that the latest nuclear technology still relies on pre-modern labor force: “the sweat and the sacrifice of human beings.”

The tour at the Tsuruga Nuclear Power Plant took months to arrange. After his initial requests were denied, he moved into a cheap hotel room near the plant and stood at the front gate every day for a week.

 Until the recent disaster, anti-nuclear activists in Japan have counted some local victories, preventing plants from moving in or quashing the use of plutonium-laced nuclear fuel in their neighborhoods. But they say their national influence has been virtually nil.

 In energy-hungry Japan, Higuchi's no-nukes message did not carry very far. “I was the least popular photographer in Japan,” he said. But now, Higuchi is more optimistic that a moratorium on nuclear power production is possible.

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