Things Left Behind: Ishiuchi Miyako’s Hiroshima Photographs
Posted on November 18th, 2013
There are many different ways to tell a story. Sometimes people start at the beginning and go for the chronological or linear way of story telling. Others come at it from an unexpected direction, elevating the smallest detail into the most powerful statement. This is what photographer Ishiuchi Miyako does to bring the nightmare of Hiroshima into the present. By photographing objects left after the bomb, and donated by family to the Peace Memorial Museum, Miyako has brought the past into the present.
These frail dresses, broken glasses, abandoned dolls and more force us to think about the people who died and the lives of the individuals. Like other tragedies where the numbers become the story, and the individual is lost amidst the mass, the bombing of Hiroshima has been something distant, as if from some ancient history. But it is not ancient.
As someone notes during the film, Hiroshima has always been seen before in black and white. By shooting in color, Miyako brings the event into the present.
It isn’t hard to imagine the person who wore that fragile dress, or the child whose feet fit into the little shoes. Miyako brings the trauma to us in a way that we can all relate to.
There are many photographs throughout time that show us the tension between beauty and trauma. Miyako’s delicate touch with her photographs, her emotions, and her desire to “will them into existence,” brings what is for most Westerners a distant moment, into a close, undeniable fact. Through her photos we can imagine the person reduced to ash by the bomb.
The film opens with the sound of a breath being exhaled, and unfolds as we travel with Miyako to Vancouver, Canada, and an exhibition at the UBC Anthropology Museum. It is there that she sees Northwest Indian totems, and learns that the Dene a semi-nomadic people, without realizing the ultimate intent of their work, mined the uranium used in the bomb. So horrified were they to realize how inadvertently they contributed to the bombing of Hiroshima, that they went to the city to apologize.
Neither the Canadian government nor the American government has ever apologized. In fact, the filmmaker has been trying to find an American museum to show Miyako’s work, to no avail.
In this film the photographer has taken a horrific event in the world and “resurrected it into beauty.”
The film is presented as part of the DOC NYC festival. It continues through Nov. 21. I urge you to go and see some amazing films. And stay tuned here for more reviews, all this week.