Using thermal technology, Giles Price photographs the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster
Drawn in by the physical aftermath of the natural disaster, Giles documents how the landscape has been altered following a nuclear accident at Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Plant.
- Ayla Angelos
- 13 January 2020
On 16 March 2011, a severe nuclear accident was caused by the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami at the Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Plant, Ōkuma, the largest since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and one that led to an evacuation radius of 20 kilometres. A total of 154,000 residents left their communities due to the radioactivity caused by the damaged reactors and, for months, radiation levels remained high, until the following December it was finally declared stable and in March 2017, the evacuation orders were lifted. This mammoth and disastrous moment in history forms the basis of Giles Price’s new project, Restricted Residence, released this week on Loose Joints.
Having already published projects on the topic of the social, economic and environmental impact of the past two Olympic games, Giles was curious about the next – with forthcoming games taking place in Tokyo, and two events held in Fukushima City. “This is happening to show the continued clean-up and redevelopment operation of the Fukushima prefecture post-earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear disaster of 2011,” he tells It’s Nice That. “The Japanese government in 2017 opened up formally closed areas of the exclusion zone and started to allow the towns around the nuclear plant (80km away from Fukushima City) to be re-populated. There is a wide debate about whether this is the right thing to do and the health implications around people being allowed to live there.”
Drawn in by the physical aftermath of the natural disaster, Giles was interested in documenting how the landscape had been altered – both in terms of deconstruction and the radiation. “For some time, I have been working with drones; the capabilities of them fascinate me. This includes thermology, which is used in industrial surveying (for leaks and spillages) as well as search, rescue and medicine (screening for illnesses),” he says. “When I started to think about how to approach the altered environment of the exclusion zone, it was the visual abstractness of the colours rendered by the technology which interested me, not its scientific applications.” Colour was therefore his muse as he set out to capture the day-to-day life of the towns – along with the people who have decided to return – with intense thermal imagery and a hefty dose of post-production.
A further influence and motive for Giles to photograph the area rests in the fact that he is a former Royal Marines Commando. He joined at the age of 16 after school and, a year later, served in Kurdistan at the end of the 1991 Gulf War. Camera in hand, the photographs he took are now held in London’s Imperial War Museum. “The images I shot on tour then helped me get a place at university to study photography, after I was medically discharged from the military due to injuries I’d received in Iraq,” he explains. Although a saddening and life-changing outcome, his previous experiences as a commando positively left him with an interest in the human-inflicted environment – i.e. the subject of photography. “I sustained a life-changing injury in Kurdistan because of the landscape and what was being done to it,” he says, “so I have a very personal connection to these sorts of stories.”
One story in particular is that of a waitress and cook, as seen in the Restricted Residence series. It’s a sharp, vivid and – despite its colours – momentously normal scene. But really, there’s a powerful reality hidden beneath. “The tension between the mundanity of daily life, the colours and knowing that these people are living in an environment which is potentially harmful, I find very emotive,” he says, before citing his work as a catalyst to continue the conversation around the possible long-term effects of the disaster, especially that of the psychological impact on the area’s inhabitants. “There is some medical consensus that there has been and will be more issues to do with mental health than physical health,” he adds. “The images also show human resilience, and raising questions around the wide ramifications of how people live with man-made environmental disasters.”
As a whole, this project is imperative to the work that Giles strives to produce. Rousing in its subject matter and photographic techniques used, Restricted Residence is a depiction of the photographer’s long-standing relationship between the environment and its inhabitants.
Restricted Residence by Giles Price, is published by Loose Joints. Giles will be holding a book signing at The Photographers’ Gallery on 16 January. The publication is also accompanied by an essay from environmental writer Fred Pearce.
GalleryAll images from Restricted Residence: © Giles Price 2020 courtesy Loose Joints
All images from Restricted Residence: © Giles Price 2020 courtesy Loose Joints
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.