Photographer using project to pass on experiences of A-bomb survivors through family portraits

JIJI

A 36-year-old female photographer is passing on the stories of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by taking family photos of third-generation survivors.

Since 2015, Hiroshima resident Hiroko Doune has photographed over 70 families with third-generation hibakusha, whose grandparents were survivors of the atomic bombing that devastated the two cities in the closing days of World War II.

“Now is the only time when we can listen to their stories,” she said of hibakusha. Hiroshima was flattened by a U.S. atomic bomb on Aug. 6, 1945, and a similar fate befell Nagasaki three days later.

Doune said she hopes her photos will be an opportunity for people to pass on atomic bomb experiences to the younger generation.

The project started when a female friend asked Doune to take her picture.

When Doune’s friend had traveled overseas while in her 20s, she casually told someone that her grandfather was a hibakusha. The person’s attitude changed after hearing that and the friend was forbidden to play with that person’s children.

Doune said the experience came as a shock to her friend, as she had never considered being a third-generation hibakusha up until that point.

The friend suggested that Doune, who had asked for her advice on how to preserve the atomic bombs’ horrors and lessons for the next generation, that she could be a photo subject.

Doune was worried about exposing her friend to public scorn as a third-generation hibakusha, but she eventually decided to photograph her.

Since then, Doune has focused on third-generation hibakusha, attempting to capture photos that show who they are.

At first she received criticism and rejection from families and some exhibition galleries refused to showcase her work. Some people pleaded not to call their children third-generation hibakusha, while others said that it was unfair to take photos of people smiling in front of Hiroshima’s Atomic Bomb Dome.

Doune, however, was determined that her work would be a gateway for the younger generation who saw her photos of people their own age to think about the bombings.

For her photos, Doune creates time for families to sit down with the grandparents who are hibakusha to discuss the atomic bombings. The participating third-generation hibakusha come up with captions for their family portraits.

She noted that she vividly remembers third-generation hibakusha’s expressions changing before her eyes in such sessions.

Even those who seemed uninterested at first started to cry, fall silent or question their grandparents seriously as the sessions progressed, Doune said.

“Although we don’t know about the war, I felt that it was not somebody else’s problem,” she said.

A university student thanked Doune, saying that the student was able to hear the stories of the student’s grandmother because of the family portrait project.

Some hibakusha said that they had been able to talk to their grandchildren about tales that they could not tell their children.

Hibakusha are aging and some died just before their photo shoots.

“We’re running out of time,” Doune said.

Her house was flooded in the torrential rain that hit western Japan last month. Some of her work was ruined, but she was still able to hold a photo exhibition while living at a shelter.

“Hiroshima and Nagasaki both know the pain of surviving (the atomic bombings),” Doune said. “The families are here now because hibakusha lived through the atomic bombings. I’d like to carry that on.”