Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Extraordinary Photos: The "Fukushima Fifty"

Today I expected to post about a number of things, including the photographic possibilites of the  Supermoon (was the sky clear where you were, 'cause here in New York it was more or less snowing. Hope your images were as awesome as these.) Then I thought I'd write about how Rick Norsigian and his team of lawyers seemed to have totally capitulated and agreed to never, ever say those glass plate negatives found at a garage sale were by Ansel Adams. Then I saw on Photo District News that a federal court  judge in New York ruled that Richard Prince--the artists also known as appropriator--infringed on photographer Patrick Carious's copyrights by creating a series of painting and a collage from photographs "torn" from Cariou's book Yes, Rasta.

But then I saw these images from released by Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, which provide an extraordinary look inside the country's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. I can't remember when "official" photographs have provided this type of powerful narrative. Some images move us because of their artfulness, or the story-telling skill of the image maker. But photography has the ability to stun us simply with its innate ability to document--in the end, that is the essential function of photography. It is the baseline. 

In this picture, we see a number of workers, their faces obscured by breathing gear, in the control room of the ruined  Unit 1 and Unit 2 reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. These workers who have stayed to monitor and control the plants have become known as the "Fukushima Fifty." It's seldom a good thing when you are part of a group known by a name like that--it implies a select but doomed few, heroic yes, but we don't really separate the ideas of heroism and doom, do we? These are the people who are trying to get the pumps to bring in the water that might cool the nuclear reactors and spent fuel rods that may be melting down. Look at them. They are heroes. You don't see pictures like this every day.

 They worked in darkness, by flashlight.

 This is one of the power plant's control rooms. It is an abandoned, lonely place.

 This is the central control room of Fukushima Daiichi's Unit 3 reactor.  Unit 3 employs both uranium and plutonium as fuel, which, we are told, is potentially more dangerous than just uranium, which is what the other reactors use. This place looks orderly, but control is an abstract idea in this room now.

Here, workers help restore electricity to the Unit 3 and Unit 4 reactors--electricity to run pumps to bring water to cool the nuclear cores. I believe these images will last, will exist into the future as symbols that will, undoubtedly, be claimed as evidence by people who believe in all sorts of things. For now they simply show what a number of people were doing in a very, very bad situation.

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