As a photographer whose roots are in Fukushima, Tadao Mitome feels a duty to continue capturing images of the area to document the effects of the nuclear disaster triggered by the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011.
On March 11 this year, the third anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, Mitome, 75, published a photo book titled “3/11 Fukushima: Hibaku no Bokujo” (“Stock Farm Exposed to Radiation”), documenting a farm in the village of Iitate and its dying horses.
“People should do whatever they are capable of doing,” Mitome said in a recent interview. “I take photos because I’m a photographer.”
Several weeks after the natural disasters triggered three core meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in 2011, Mitome visited the prefecture where his parents were born to help those affected.
At a livestock auction, Mitome met the owner of a farm in Iitate, about 40 km away from the wrecked power plant, who had defied the central government’s order to evacuate.
“The man was hanging in there by wearing a towel around his head and his eyes were those of someone who truly loves animals,” Mitome said. “I loved to take photos of his.”
Mitome then started traveling back and forth between his home in Tokyo and the farm. After nearly two years, horses became weak and died, one by one, from an unknown cause. Some horses in Fukushima were also put to death and sent away for autopsies.
Mitome said he felt as though the eyes of the killed animals were trying to tell him that they would never let human beings forget about the nuclear disaster. He said he plans to visit Fukushima again.
Mitome was born on the Korean Peninsula in 1938, and moved to Japan at the age of 9. After becoming a photographer, he documented refugees in Cambodia, famine in Africa and other global tragedies.
In 1982, Mitome won the first Domon Ken Award, which is named after legendary photographer Ken Domon, who died in 1990. Mitome had been working mostly outside Japan until the Fukushima disaster drew attention to the Tohoku region.
“There are things that I must let people in the world know,” he said. “I have been able to keep reporting so tenaciously probably because of my roots in Tohoku.”
Looking back on his 56-year career, he said: “I have accumulated what I have seen and thought over these years and I will never stop. That is my life.”