KYOTO--An exhibition of portraits of 27 workers at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is trying to put faces to the low-paid workforce employed to contain the nuclear disaster.
The stark, black-and-white images on display at the Little House gallery in Kyoto through Aug. 12 were taken by 26-year-old photographer Kazuma Obara from July last year.
Obara also conducted interviews with the men, uncovering resentment at their treatment by the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., but sometimes also deep commitment to their work.
Obara said one 43-year-old worker told him: “Only people at Tokyo Electric and its main contractors are protected against health hazards. Marginal workers could be told to work even on weekends. I go to work every day, telling myself, ‘This is not for TEPCO.’ ”
A 39-year-old worker said: “I’ve been doing this job because I want to do something for my hometown.”
A 31-year-old said: “Somebody has to do this. So, I became that somebody.”
After graduating from a university, Obara, who is originally from Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, was studying to become a professional photojournalist, but almost immediately gave up the company job that was supporting him after watching television coverage of the March 11 tsunami at work.
“I don’t want the disaster to be an incident on TV. I want to get across what is going on in my native region, Tohoku," he remembers thinking.
Obara, whose previous photographic projects have included portraits of boys living in a shantytown in Kenya, says he had planned to leave his job at the end of March 2011, but moved the timetable up following the quake. Four days after the disaster struck, he headed for coastal areas in Miyagi Prefecture in a rental car with a full load of supplies including water and disposable diapers.
He took a number of images of the devastation, while delivering support supplies at evacuation centers, and then moved on to Fukushima Prefecture in July last year.
“Without those workers, the nuclear accident will not be contained,” Obara said. “The government and TEPCO should protect the health of workers at the plant and make facts public.”
It was recently revealed that a subcontractor had ordered its workers to cover the dosimeters measuring their exposure to radiation with lead plates to keep dose level readings low, which would allow them to remain on the job longer.
To view Obara’s website, go to (http://kazumaobara.com/index.html).
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