The first time we arrived in Tohoku, we had nothing but a beat-up camera, some expired instant film, and a few good intentions. Not having any idea of what to expect, or how to even go about what we hoped to accomplish, to give photos rather than just to take them, we just went on the wings of a prayer.
10 years later, with 50 photo-giving efforts behind us, we are carried north again on the wind of literally hundreds of volunteers and thousands of supporters, all of whom have been instrumental in restoring a sense of normalcy to those whose worlds were turned upside down, and in doing so, inspiring immense hope, and brightening uncountable smiles. It’s been a humbling decade, to say the least.
This last effort brought us Kenreitei, 旧石井県令邸, The Former Governor Ishii’s Residence in Morioka, the capital city of Iwate. There, we hosted a photo exhibition, an instant photo studio, and the album cafe for the public as a chance reflect on all that was lost on March 11th, 2011 and to celebrate all that has been overcome since. It was pulled together in loving partnership with the absolute sterling people at Ukishima Sculpture Studio, and many other dear photohomies who I’ll get to in a moment.
Iwate prefecture is home to the coastal communities of Rikuzentakata, Ofunato, Miyako, Kamaishi, Otsuchi, Yamada, Tanohato, Noda, Iwaizumi, Hirono, and Kuji, all of which were heavily devastated by the earthquake and tsunami. The tsunami reached a height of 40.5 meters (133 ft) in Miyako, and of the nearly 20,000 people who lost their lives across Tohoku, over 7000 were from Iwate, where over 26,000 homes and buildings were destroyed. The devastation was just staggering. As we made photos for visitors to the gallery, we heard, and cathartically re-lived, some many harrowing tales people experienced. Emotions swelled, tears were shed, and solemn moments were reflected upon with heavy hearts. It was hard to be there and feel that weight. But it was good to be there too, with the wind of all our of photohomies at our backs. We not only gifted a lot photos, and made a lot smiles, I think just our presence alone sent a message of love and care. And that love and care was reflected back on us ten fold, as we were fed and spoiled with the amazing natural beauty of Iwate and its good-hearted people (…and delicious food!) While so many challenges for the region still lie ahead, the resilience of Iwate inspires us with overwhelming positivity. We’re encouraged to return soon! Also, we found a great report that talks all about the recovery in Iwate (https://www.pref.iwate.jp/…/022/737/eng-ayumi2019a3.pdf) , but be encouraged to go see it for yourself. Truly it’s breathtakingly beautiful.
And speaking of breathtaking beauty, this all came together with the generosity and grace of our lovely co-exhibitors, Kate Thomson and Hironori Katagiri, and their daughter Emily. Kate and Kata envisioned this exhibition years ago actually when they first invited us, but circumstances only gave way now. They curated and designed a phenomenal exhibition at Kenreitei, in a stunning 130 year historical building that was completely filled with a visual notion of family, through sculpture, painting, illustration, photography, …and postcards! It’s on until the 28th so go see it! It was such an honor to exhibit Photohoku alongside these beautiful people. There is so much to say about their work and the Postcards to/from Japan project, but check out their presentation in the comments. Rest assured, they showered us with kindness and encouragement and tireless effort to make this all happen. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you Hironori Katagiri, Kate T Thomson and Emily, and Chiba san, Matsuzaka san, Iyama san, Mori san, Uchizawa san, and Michael! And a massive thank you to all the Photohoku photographers who produced this work and inspired these smiles. You’re forever heroes to us. Last but not least, a very special Thank You to our PechaKucha and Klein Dytham architecture families, who not only work tirelessly on their own amazing response efforts in Tohoku (INSPIRE Japan and Home for All, respectively) but they also always support Photohoku and they helped kick off the exhibition with a great PK Session. Thanks A+M and the whole gang. You’re the best.
It is said that to give is to receive. But that equation is not so simple. What we’ve learned through doing Photohoku defies this axiom, for when you give, not only do you in fact receive more than you gave, you aspire to give more, which inspires others to give, thus creating more to receive, and inspire and aspire more still, in a perpetual positive infinity loop that just keeps going forever, like a ripple that never ends. Photohoku keeps proving this to be true, and will continue to do so for next long, long while.