Tokyo photographer Eiji Tsuchiya thought schoolchildren affected by last year's Great East Japan Earthquake could provide a powerful and moving perspective of survivors through their eyes.
So he armed about 300 students of an elementary school in Miyagi Prefecture with disposable film cameras and sent them on their way.
“I want the children to record the realities of the damaged area through their eyes,” said Tsuchiya, 66.
The children at Watanoha Elementary School in Ishinomaki were deeply impacted by the March 11, 2011, disaster. On that day, their school, located about 500 meters from the coast, was inundated by the tsunami, with its building rendered unusable.
Seven of the school’s 453 students were killed. In addition, many of the students who survived the disaster were forced to transfer to other schools as they lost their homes.
Tsuchiya came up with the idea of asking the students of the school to take photographs of what they saw in their daily lives in the aftermath. By obtaining the support of major film company Fujifilm Corp., he distributed disposable film cameras to all the school's 300 students in September.
After about a month and a half, he collected the disposable cameras, each of which contained 27 images, from the children and developed the film. Then, he chose 200 photos from the collection and asked the students, who took the pictures, to write messages for them.
In autumn 2011, a boy, who was a fifth-grader at the time, took a photo of a girl with a red satchel on her back looking at her devastated town from a window of a school bus. He wrote about his thoughts for the picture, which read, “I felt that my friend was looking toward the future.”
Another boy, then a fourth-grader, asked his teacher to take a photo of all the students of his class. In the photo, they are smiling in front of a blackboard. The boy wrote, “As I have to transfer to a different school, I took this photo as a keepsake.”
The photographs will be shown in an exhibition at Gallery Yougen in Tokyo’s Ginza district from May 21 to May 25 under the title, “Asuni Mukatte! Makenaizo!” (Toward tomorrow! We don’t give in!).
Seeing the photos taken by the children, Tsuchiya was surprised at their sharp sensitivity.
“Though the photos look like ordinary pictures, they contain the children’s strong desire for recovery,” Tsuchiya said.
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