Photos by Jamason Chen
Jamason Chen is a photographer, videographer, and new media researcher. He received his MA in Mass Communication from the University of Minnesota. Before he moved to the U.S. for pursuing his graduate study in 1998, Chen was a staff member in the School of Communication Studies at Nangyang Technological University of Singapore. He currently works as the manager of technology and clinical professor teaching photojournalism in the School of Communication at Loyola University Chicago. His essays and columns on photography and visual culture have been published in the U.S. and Asian journals. He has curated photographic exhibitions for the photography festivals in the U.S. and Asia. He has been the portfolio reviewer in the Society of Photographic Education conference in last 4 years.
One snowy afternoon in November 2011, I received a call from a woman who introduced herself, “I am Yoko Noge.” She is a journalist working for Chicago Bureau of Nikkei Shimbun, the Japanese equivalent of Wall Street Journal. She heard about me and wanted to discuss some possibilities of doing a photo exhibition on the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami that struck Japan nine months earlier. Yoko and I met and brainstormed how to do a project with no budget. What we shared was our passion and willingness to tell people in Chicago what happened in Japan in that early March following the massive earthquake and tsunami of March 11.
With all the help and support from Japanese communities both in Chicago and Japan and the City of Chicago, the first memorial exhibition, “Kizuna Project,” was held in the Thompson Center in March 2012, one year after the earthquake. After the first exhibition, we reprised the exhibition every March on different subjects, but with the same theme of presenting the strength of human society— when one suffered from the disaster, the others give hands of support. The word “Kizuna” means “bond.”
For three years as a curator for the Kizuna exhibition, I always expected I would have a chance to visit the Tohoku region which I had seen only through the visual images I selected for the exhibitions.
Then, on September 22, 2014, my plane landed at Tokyo International Airport and I knew that I would see first-hand Tohoku and its people recovering from the disaster four years earlier. On September 24 around 6:00AM in Tokyo, Nobuko Nakamura, our coordinator in Japan for the 4th Kizuna Project, knocked on the door of the hostel where I was staying. Yoko Noge stood outside, rearranging stuff in the trunk of the car we would drive to Tohoku to document people and the recovery efforts. As we started driving, we saw a rainbow in front of us. I told myself, “We will have an impressive trip and exhibition!”
During the trip, we visited many sites and survivors. With my camera, I recorded loss and rebuilding, disappointment and hope, the sadness of the past three years and happiness about the current recovery and future revitalization. All my witnesses have been selected and are presented here to you.
One picture is worth a thousand words, but a framed image may never present the whole context. However, all these images together may at least present to you a broad picture of what we saw on the road in Tohoku. Not only do these images tell the stories through my eyes, but also the people pictured tell you about their gratitude and hope, through their eyes and body language.