Courtesy of FOVEA
Workers footsteps in caked mud outside a destroyed factory in Sendai, Japan.
If you prefer art as rife with moral dilemma as beauty, consider “Japan Now” at Fovea Exhibitions in Beacon (through July 17). The photography show’s bland title is ironic, for in the wake of an earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear mishap, today’s Japan is a locus of multiple hells. Displaying the work of 21 photojournalists who recorded the devastation, “Japan Now” illuminates that place where reality and art do not merely intersect, but collide mercilessly. Gallery visitors may question their own role: art lover or rubbernecker? (For those stymied by the contradictions, there is redemption: Fovea will accept donations for the Japan Society’s Earthquake Relief Fund.)
Jake Price, a New York-based news photographer, has contributed a BBC slideshow to the exhibition. A veteran of assignments in Japan, Price, 38, felt a need to go back. As he photographed, he lived among survivors in a displaced persons camp in Natori, a city erased by the tsunami. You travel the world, photographing tragic situations—both manmade and caused by the hand of nature—in locales like Kenya, Kashmir, and Haiti. What arrests the eye is the eerie beauty your lens captures.
It’s [about] lending a sense of dignity to people who are going thorough such suffering. I don’t like the mainstream press going in and looking for tragedy within tragedy; it’s too easy. If you look for beauty within destruction, then you have the sense that something is really lost—and something that needs to be gained. And something to search for.
How soon after the earthquake and tsunami did you travel there?
About 48 hours. You were dealing with a people known for being very private.
It’s definitely a reserved society, but it’s not a society that shies away from having its tragedy seen. One such situation was a mass funeral, or at least a mass display of bodies in caskets. There was a point where the ceremony broke up and people went to look at their deceased relatives. There’s a little pane that opens up in the casket where people can peer in. As a photographer, I felt that this moment was really important. So, as subtly and quietly as possible, I ventured into the room to take pictures of people looking at their lost relatives. There was one moment where I snapped a shot of a young man looking into the casket. He looked up at me when he heard the camera and I thought, shit, I’ve been found out and I really hope I didn’t offend this person. He walked over to me and I thought he was going to tell me to go away, and yet he thanked me for being there and telling his story.
Regarding the photograph of the footsteps in mud, tell me what we are looking at.
That was in the city of Sendai, a port town. It’s about as close as you can get to the epicenter of the tsunami. It was just representative of what happens in a situation like this—where there’s chaos in those footsteps but also a sense of wanting to order life, as well. As I worked throughout my trip, I took a lot of pictures of footsteps, because to me they represent everything that people are searching for.
“Japan Now,” featuring photos by Christoph Bangert, Peter Blakely, Paula Bronstein, David Butow, Adam Dean, James Whitlow Delano, David Guttenfelder, Dominic Nahr, and Donald Weber, among others, will be shown through July 17 at Fovea Exhibitions in Beacon. www.foveaexhibitions.org