It started with a 9.0 magnitude earthquake that had an impact so strong the entire Japanese main island of Honshu shifted more than six and a half feet east. Then came the tsunami and the 130-foot-tall waves. Sights, were you to see them in person, you wouldn’t be likely to ever forget.
But the consequences of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami weren’t immediately visible to the naked eye. The nearby Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant flooded, which caused the plant’s cooling system to shut down, and its reactor fuel rods started to melt. It led to a nuclear disaster. The areas around the nuclear plant were dubbed “exclusion zones,” and everyone within them was evacuated.
In the new book Restricted Residence, photographer Giles Price uses thermal imaging to capture residents who have returned to Namie and Litate, two towns that were exposed to radiation in the wake of the disaster. The Japanese government lifted evacuations and ended rent-free housing for those forced to leave evacuation zones in April 2017, and those who return to the near-empty towns do so amid varying levels of radiation and varying opinions as to whether it is safe.
The thermal imaging technology surreally captures “ordinary, hard-working people hoping for a better future” in two towns that have become largely vacant since the evacuation. Captured in vivid reds, blues, and greens, the treatment adds a ghostly weightiness to a dilapidated home, a field speckled with cows, and people simply returning to everyday normalcy: in offices and cafes, including “a taxi driver who is paid a retainer to stay because there are so few customers, a mechanic, a farmer with contaminated cattle, which he can’t sell, but refuses to put down,” according to the book.
Price’s work aims to reveal “hidden stresses on those affected by the nuclear disaster, while raising questions about the broader impact of manmade catastrophes”—and in so doing gives a sense of immediate tangibility to both human resilience and radiation exposure, the consequences of which we rarely see or feel until years later.