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In Paris: Guillaume Bression and Carlos Ayesta retrace routes back into the Fukushima Exclusion Zone

From the series Retracing Our Steps - Fukushima Exclusion Zone 2011-2016 © Carlos Ayesta and Guillaume Bression

“We wanted to show what the inhabitants have to face when they come back to the place where they used to live,” say the photographers of their work, which they're presenting at Fotofever this weekend

When an earthquake and tsunami struck the northeast coast of Japan on 11 March 2011, thousands lost their lives and many more were left homeless. Worse still, the quake triggered a devastating accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, forcing 80,000 more people to flee their homes. People have slowly returned but, despite huge efforts to make it safe, radiation persists. Many former residents have decided to stay away, and those who came back are still adjusting to life in the shadow of a still very present past.

Photographers Guillaume Bression and Carlos Ayesta spent six months covering the immediate aftermath of the disaster for the French media, and decided to work on a much longer project together. Keen to create something “between documentary and staged photography”, they started by using torches to illuminate the streets around the plant at night. Several bodies of work followed, with the most recent instalment seeing them invite former residents back for a series of staged environmental portraits.

“We wanted to show what the inhabitants have to face when they come back to the place where they used to live,” explain the photographers. “We asked each subject to face the camera and to act as normally as possible. The idea behind these almost surreal images was to combine the banal with the unusual.”

From the series Retracing Our Steps – Fukushima Exclusion Zone 2011-2016 © Carlos Ayesta and Guillaume Bression

The result, Retracing Our Steps – Fukushima Exclusion Zone 2011-2016, has the appearance of a series of film stills, carefully lit and very surreal. In one image a young man wearing headphones poses in an old record shop, destruction all around him; in another, a woman stands behind a shopping trolley in what’s left of a supermarket. Depicting what would have been ordinary scenes, the photographs are familiar yet also post-apocalyptic.

Bression and Ayesta planned each image meticulously, and took it in turns to shoot and assist. The biggest challenge was finding the right subjects and getting permission to shoot in these abandoned places, they say, but the series is now complete.

Guillaume Bression and Carlos Ayesta will be signing copies of Retracing Our Steps – Fukushima Exclusion Zone 2011-2016 at Fotofever at 12pm on 11 November http://fotofever.com/en-446-programme.html

Retracing Our Steps – Fukushima Exclusion Zone 2011-2016 is published by Kehrer  https://www.kehrerverlag.com/en/carlos-ayesta-guillaume-bression-retracing-our-steps-fukushima-exclusion-zone-2011-2016-978-3-86828-738-7 www.fukushima-nogozone.com 

From the series Retracing Our Steps – Fukushima Exclusion Zone 2011-2016 © Carlos Ayesta and Guillaume Bression