National

Award-winning photographer vows to continue work with Colombia’s drug gangs

by Takuya Hatakeyama

Kyodo

Kosuke Okahara, a 34-year-old freelance photographer whose decade-long documentation of Colombia’s notorious drug gangs has earned him the 2014 Pierre & Alexandra Boulat Award for professional journalism as well as a prize of €8,000 (¥1.08 million), says he is determined to continue his work in the country.

“The story has not ended,” Okahara said in September after winning the award for his project, entitled “Any Given Day,” which attempts to describe the endless cycle of violence in the city of Cali, a cocaine production center with one of the world’s highest homicide rates. “With the prize, I can go back.”

One of his many photographic subjects from the region is a man in his mid-20s who claims to have killed at least 30 people.

The assassin, who was born poor and has never received any kind of formal education, started to enjoy the public notoriety of killing others, Okahara says.

“He believed that his value in society is determined by killing, not by earning money or fame,” he said.

Okahara is keen to emphasize that his focus is on subjects within their natural, day-to-day environments.

“I try to describe the existence of each subject by bringing out the atmosphere,” he said. “A photograph directly reflects the subjective view and feelings of the person who shot it.”

A native of Tokyo, Okahara’s interest in photography was piqued at the age of 21 by a 2001 trip to war-ravaged Kosovo.

“It was quite shocking,” he recalled of witnessing wrecked buildings and injured people. It was “a totally different world from that I had seen on the news,” he said, adding that he felt he needed to find out what had happened to the town he was visiting and its residents.

Besides the project in Colombia, Okahara has made several visits to the Tohoku region, which was devastated by the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami disaster, to document the lives of survivors.

He said he can never forget what one of victims told him: “Please keep a record (of this tragedy).”

Okahara plans to publish in France by the end of this year a photo book about life in Fukushima Prefecture after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami crippled Tepco’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.