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Alex Levac / Three years after….
Photographs from the Nuclear Disaster Area in Japan
On March 11, 2011 a chain of disasters struck the Tohoku region in Japan: a 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit off the coast of Sendai. Consequently, a 10-meter high tsunami washed the north-eastern coast of Japan and flooded entire cities and their populations. But the worst damage of all was caused when the tsunami disabled several nuclear power plants, resulting in a radioactive leak, whose repercussions are still felt, preventing rehabilitation of the area.
Alex Levac flew to Japan immediately after the disaster as photographer on behalf of the daily Haaretz. Since then he has visited Tohoku three more times to document the work of IsraAID, The Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid. From the outset of his artistic career, Levac has regarded photography as a social act capable of affecting public consciousness. As a documentary photographer he was awarded the Israel Prize (2005) for his unique, penetrating gaze. His photography is direct yet empathic, seeking the human aspect in every situation.
Although he is overly familiar with the trauma-ridden Israeli reality, Levac was overwhelmed by the damage to the disaster areas in Japan. In the aftermath of the earthquake, the tsunami, and the nuclear catastrophe, he encountered the landscapes and people of northern Japan: the helplessness, the restraint, the confrontation with solitude, the pain, the uncertainty, and the emptiness. Alongside the commissioned documentary project, he created a series of photographs manifesting his personal perspective, which touches the raw nerve with utmost attentiveness and sensitivity.
Levac’s photographs articulate the gap between what was obliterated and what remained. An elderly woman walking on a street which was once hers; the skeleton of a car swept by the waves, rusting on the beach; heads from broken statues, representing Jizo, the Buddhist deity entrusted with the protection of children and travelers. In some of the sculpture photographs Levac accentuates the absurd experience more forcefully: the gate of a Shinto temple (torii) towering over the debris, and a fox statue (kitsune) known in Japanese folklore as capable of turning into a human being, standing upright and facing a bulldozer. In other photographs, Levac observes the open space, the thundering silence after the storm; a cross sprouting from a bare sandy hill; an innocent-looking wave forcefully shattering on the pier; a seemingly pastoral scene of farmers in a field, gathering what turns out to be nuclear waste.
These photographs are not intended to shock the viewer, but rather to awaken him to observe the moment after the disaster in order to comprehend its ramifications. The photographs oscillate between human intimacy and a distant, contemplative gaze, allowing for identification with the survivors, while eliciting true concern for the disaster’s future environmental implications.