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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Hirokawa Taishi: "STILL CRAZY. Nuclear power plants as seen in Japanese landscapes" (1994)

At approximately 2:46 pm on March 11, 2011 an earthquake of never before registered magnitude hit the Japanese Tōhoku region. The subsequent tsunami caused not only severe damage to a great number of (coastal) towns and took the lifes of up to 19.000 people but eventually also led to the disastrous nuclear accident at the Fukushima power plant. While since then many photobook publications - including Homma Takashi's Mushrooms From The Forest (2011) - have been intelligently addressing the serious threat that radioactivity constitutes to our health and that of many generations to come, Hirokawa Taishi's (b. 1950, Zushi, Kanagawa Prefecture) 1994 publication STILL CRAZY. Nuclear power plants as seen in Japanese landscapes (Korinsha Press) needs to be highlighted within this context as an outstanding photographic achievement dating from before the Fukushima catastrophe. 

Hirokawa Taishi: STILL CRAZY. Nuclear power plants as seen in Japanese landscapes (1994).

In this large-format hardcover book Hirokawa presents a total of 39 double-spread black-and-white photographs, taken between September 1991 and October 1993, that show no more, no less than what the book's subtitle is stating: nuclear power plants as they could and in most cases still can be seen in the Japanese landscapes. While admittedly, at first sight, the photos (taken in a continuous horizontal format and from a distanced viewpoint) seem almost too tame to match the book's clearly provoking main title STILL CRAZY, upon closer examination, it becomes clear that their well-thought-out compositions derive from a visual language essential to adequately generate serious contemplation on the issue addressed.

Hirokawa Taishi: STILL CRAZY. Nuclear power plants as seen in Japanese landscapes (1994).

Especially striking, while turning the pages, is that almost all of the depicted nuclear power plants are located either directly or in immediate proximity to the Japanese coastline - an inexpressibly eerie discovery with hindsight to the events of March 11, 2011. Consequently, from today's point of view, the one photograph of the still intact Fukushima plant (taken on October 24, 1991; below) has probably the most sinister effect on the viewer. The knowledge of its tragic fate and the fear of history repeating itself has generated a second mental image, an inextinguishable presentiment of danger, overshadowing (in some degree) all of Hirokawa's 39 photographs.

Hirokawa Taishi: STILL CRAZY. Nuclear power plants as seen in Japanese landscapes (1994).

"Well, the prosperity we are currently receiving from the benefit of nuclear power generation is based on a huge sacrifice, a sacrifice we have no choice but to force onto the future as well. Reality shows that all we can do with the the increasing high level atomic waste, which includes neptunium 237 that has a half life of 2.140.00 years, is stabilizing it with glass, burying it underground and then covering it all with concrete. Reality shows that nuclear reactors are being dismantled 40 years after their construction, but the question of how to dismantle them and what to do with the site afterwards is yet unsolved. Can our generation take responsibility that the glass and concrete will withstand natural disasters for 2.140.000 years and have absolutely no effect on the environment? 
Rather, why not create barriers around the sites of demolished atomic waste processing plants and nuclear power plants or related facilities by affixing shimenawa [a rope at Shinto shrines used for the demarcation of a consecrated area; note Faraway Eyes], name it Holy Ground, and pass on the words „Never go near, never dig it up“ to the generations of a distant future. That is however, only if later generations will exist." (Taken from the essay "Holy Ground" written in Japanese by Hirokawa Taishi and included in STILL CRAZY; translation by Faraway Eyes)