Six years later: UM photographers explore Japan's 3.11 disasters 

The University of Montana School of Journalism sends a group of students abroad every year to share stories from other parts of the world. In late spring, students visited Japan to investigate the long aftermath of "3.11." On March 11, 2011, the most powerful earthquake to have hit Japan in recorded history its magnitude was a staggering 9.0 originated undersea fewer than 50 miles off the eastern coastline. Shockwaves from the quake produced a devastating tsunami that obliterated the coastline and caused a multireactor meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, wiped out entire towns and claimed nearly 20,000 lives. Reconstruction that will ultimately cost hundreds of billions of dollars is currently underway.

The First Friday show, Finding Home After Fallout, will feature work from the trip's four primary photographers: Parker Seibold, Katy Spence, Tate Samata and Sydney MacDonald.

"We drew a lot from the community," Katy Spence says. "We had a dinner, and a movie showing, and people donated. This is a way to show the community that this is part of what we did with their help."

Parker Seibold curated images for the show from photographs taken by all four photographers. (Disclosure: Seibold is a photo intern for the Indy.) The images will be divided into four sections. First are scenes of the destruction, with an accompanying overview narrative written by J-school instructor and trip leader Nadia White. Second, there will be general images from those parts of Japan where life has continued unaffected by the disasters. Third, the group will display images of recovery from those regions hardest hit by 3.11.

"The final section is called 'Home,'" Seibold says. "The idea being that after a disaster like this, when your home is destroyed, how do you go home, how do you find home?"

click to enlarge Sydney MacDonald’s photograph is part of a First Friday show documenting Japan six years after it was hit by a series of major natural disasters. - PHOTO COURTESY SYDNEY MACDONALD
  • photo courtesy Sydney MacDonald
  • Sydney MacDonald’s photograph is part of a First Friday show documenting Japan six years after it was hit by a series of major natural disasters.

The images are striking. There are wonderful portraits of Japanese citizens, and images of huge bags of radioactive waste waiting to be taken for storage (final destination still to be determined). Finally, it is in behind-the-scenes shots from restricted locations like the radioactive dead zones near the Fukushima power plant where the group pulled off an excellent effort in photojournalism.

In Japan, the group quickly learned that research doesn't necessarily prepare you for realities on the ground. Matching sources to story ideas, finding interpreters, dealing with the overall mass of people and the urban landscapes of Japan, all of these were elements that presented challenges to the group of students. As the students persisted, sources began to appear. Things began to fall into place, and stories were born.

The students unanimously agree it is the words of the Japanese people themselves that are most compelling.

"I was blown away by how much you can learn about a person," Sydney MacDonald says, "even with a language barrier, speaking through interpreters. People really opened up when telling their stories."

There are many elements to the catastrophes in Japan that reverberate all around the globe. These students are showing the critical role journalism plays in the sharing of one community's experiences with others. That is a message that can't be shared often, or loudly, enough.

Fallout opens with a reception at the Dana Gallery Annex, Fri., September 1, from 5 PM to 8 PM. Entrance is via the 4 Ravens Gallery on North Higgins.

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