The 3.11 Portrait Project is a project supporting Great Eastern Japan Earthquake recovery with the participation of photographers from different fields, hair & makeup artists, models, and local NPOs. Some of the members went to Tohoku in early April to take news photos and to volunteer with different organizations. What they witnessed – people who had shutdown emotionally from suffering opening up a little each time a shutter was pressed. People overcome with joy over photographs they picked up out of the dirt. Middle-aged women who seemed to brightly laugh off even unprecedented hardship. The photographers and volunteers who witnessed this asked their colleagues, “Will you work with us to shoot photographs of the victims?”
They have only one goal. “We want those who have lost everything to find even a little courage and hope, to find the momentum to take a step toward the future. We want to help them do this.”
The members usually work in different arenas — some in advertising and others in magazines — and have different styles. They reveal their individuality against a common white backdrop. The only things present there are the feelings of the subject and the person taking the photograph. They feel that photography’s intrinsic “preservation” and “communication” functions will prevent this disaster from being forgotten, and that photography moves people and has the power to change grief into smiles. And in front of them, the photographers have the optimistic, I’m-not going-to-let-this-beat-me attitude of the people who have come forward to be their subjects. We would like others to experience their spirit so we ask that you introduce the project in your media.
The devastation caused by the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake is widely known, but we started going to disaster areas almost two months after it occurred. When we rethought what the role of photography should be in this situation, we came up with one answer. To take authentic portraits, which are clearly different from news photographs, and to leave a record.
Although the subjects vary in number between individuals, families, and groups, we thought that having talented photographers come together as an organization to leave portraits and communicate with the next generation was a very meaningful way to support not only earthquake victims, but the “emotional recovery” of local communities and Japan as a country.
The damage left in the wake of this unprecedented earthquake far exceeds anything that we imagined. It is impossible to imagine the physical and mental pain of the victims. In light of people’s difficulty facing harsh realities, taking portraits in this situation is not an easy thing. But people must move past difficulty to go forward. We thought that rather than shutting away the feelings they had after the earthquake and the deep sadness that they couldn’t put into words, releasing these feelings would give them a foothold to tomorrow and to recovery.
As photographers, we believe our mission is to support each of the victim’s next steps by taking their portraits.
We had the rare opportunity to go to the disaster areas several times to take portraits. During shoots, we saw earthquake victims who had shutdown emotionally open up little by little, and have had people say wonderful things after shoots like “I want to make this an opportunity to move forward positively with my life,” and “I’m glad I had my picture taken. It cheered me up.”
These moments confirmed for us that they were able to find some sense of closure on their post-earthquake feelings by having their photographs taken and that their portraits gave them the momentum to take a step toward the future. And we realized that we ourselves, through sharing the victims’ feelings in some way, were greatly encouraged and deeply comforted.
This activity also revealed a crucial fact. Photographers at local photo studios play an important role for families and local communities. People told us things like “We went to the photo studio a lot before the earthquake,” “I would take the kids to the studio whenever there was a special occasion,” and “All those photographs were washed away.” These photographers themselves were severely impacted. We are providing all of our services for free, but we are mindful of not interfering with the future recovery efforts of local photographers and hope that this project helps with future economic activities. For this reason also, we would like many photographers, including those from local photo studios, to participate in this project and as many people and companies as possible to cooperate with and support the project so that we can shoot according to the requests of the victims and help prepare the environment for economic recovery.
We continue to believe that photography’s intrinsic “preservation” and “communication” functions will prevent this disaster from being forgotten and that photography moves people and has the power to change grief into smiles.
3.11 Portrait Project Executive Committee