Newly built tsunami escape tower, Ishinomaki, Japan.
On March 11, 2011, Japan was shaken by a magnitude-9 earthquake. The ensuing tsunami killed nearly 16,000 people, rendered hundreds of thousands homeless and caused a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Thirteen months after the disaster, the photographer Michel Huneault went to Tohoku, the northeastern region of Japan that lies approximately 72 kilometres from the epicentre of the quake, to document the aftermath and to volunteer on rehabilitation projects. Over the course of three months, Huneault shot photographs of the destruction and recorded video and sound along 250 kilometres of coast from Fukushima to Kesennuma. The resulting documentary project, called Post Tohoku, explores the effects of large-scale catastrophes on collective and individual memory and confronts questions of how to understand trauma and mourning.
In late 2015, nearly four years after his initial visit, Huneault returned to the Tohoku region to photograph the reconstruction of the roads, concrete breakwaters, towns and villages damaged and destroyed by the waters. This second portion of the Post Tohoku project, with its images of expanses of bare earth or new concrete on a backdrop of calm sea, illustrates “the tension between an enduring population and the challenging coastal landscape it remains willing to live in.”
Reconstruction projects are estimated to cost more than $300 billion and are scheduled to be complete in 2020. Five years after the tsunami, 230,000 people still live in temporary housing and more than 2,500 people are listed as still missing.
Post Tohoku will be exhibited from May 5 to June 12 at Campbell House Museum as part of the Contact Photography Festival in Toronto.