Recently, this blog has been receiving a little bit less attention than normal, as the pull of Twitter grows stronger. It’s deceptively easy to forget that some people not only read Street Level Japan, but have opinions about what’s written here! Among the different types of responses to this blog, the most satisfying might be to receive a comment that not only disagrees with a post, but shows conclusively that it’s incorrect.
This recently happened with the work of Stephen Vaughan, a British photographer about whom I wrote a couple of posts in March. Stephen was in Japan on March 11, working on a long-term project about, of all things, the possibility of a major earthquake. Based on some second-hand information, I wrote a post expressing some disappointment that he had (allegedly) been discouraged by the earthquake, and effectively stopped shooting the project. This is absolutely not the case.
In reality, Stephen traveled to areas in Iwate to photograph the damage caused by the tsunami, as well as an evacuation center. In his own words:
The work that I made in Iwate was driven by a responsibility to bear witness to what had happened. I was totally committed to recording and documenting what I saw with as much depth and clarity as I was able. I am not a photo-journalist in the classic sense (I work with large-format cameras) and there were many other photographers making those kinds of pictures. Instead, I continued to use the visual language that I had established in the project so far, in which the emphasis is on a stilled and descriptive clarity and simplicity.
Some of Stephen’s photographs from Iwate, as well as earlier photographs from this series, can be seen on his website. In my mind, it’s still too early to consider a large body of work on the earthquake, but with time, “A Catfish Sleeps” certainly has the potential to be one of the definitive photographic documents of this disaster. I just hope that the project hasn’t ended.
Update: Stephen says: “I definitely intend to go back to Iwate and Tokyo at some stage, to continue the project. I don’t yet know what form this will take but I won’t be seeking a simple resolution to what has happened.” Also, he’s kindly allowed me to post this link to a 140-page dummy version of “A Catfish Sleeps” on Issu. Definitely worth a look.