Silent Summer in Tomioka


Toby visits with his camera an abandoned town in the nuclear exclusion zone around Fukushima.

These evocative, post-apocalyptic photos were taken this month in an abandoned town in the nuclear exclusion zone around Fukushima Daiichi, two and a half years after the triple disaster (earthquake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophe) of 11th March 2011. It was Toby’s fourth visit to the area.

The village of Tomioka, where these photos were taken, was almost immediately abandoned due to the radiation leaking from the damaged nuclear plant. It has not been touched since then, frozen in time. Background radiation is still about 60x normal.

These pictures were shot using a technique called HDR (high dynamic range imaging).

As part of his job as a video cameraman, Toby had been called to film the disaster in the same area 10 days after the event and had privately taken his first series of still photos: Tsunami in Japan, which were later shown in a number of exhibitions in Japan and Germany. They caused quite a stir because he had chosen to present the distruction in an aesthetic way. In answer to this he wrote a preface to the exhibitions which reads:

“Arriving in Minamisanriku less than two weeks after the devastating earthquake and tsunami was like entering a cruel dream world. The immensity of the loss was staggering, impossible to comprehend. In my few spare moments between live TV transmissions, I wandered through the ruined landscape, trying to make emotional sense of what I was seeing. The elements of normality were all there, but bent, broken and twisted into a terrible caricature of what had existed before. Some parts of this phantasmagoria were unrecognizable, others – a stuffed toy, a shoe, a handbag – were shocking in juxtaposition.

“As a photographer, it has always been my aim to try to communicate in ways that words cannot, on feeling levels that exist within us deep below speech and reason. And though I also love to write, no words came to me, standing there, that could adequately describe what lay before my eyes. I knew then that I had to try to use my images to convey what could not be said, to describe not only the pain and sorrow, but also the wonder and the awe that flowed through me observing the aftermath of this singular event. Such acts of nature are extreme, but they bring us to a fuller comprehension of the depth and breadth of the world through which our lives flow.

“Please take your time and allow yourself to enter this world in which I stood. If these photographs arouse within you even the smallest measure of the cacophony of feelings that I experienced there, I will consider my job well done.”


Toby MarshallToby (aka, Santosh Toby – Toby Marshall) grew up in Los Angeles and studied theater at U. C. Berkeley and California State University Northridge. He toured Europe with the Living Theatre between 1975 and 1980. He came to Pune in 1980 where he took sannyas. On the Ranch we remember him well as a flute player for the celebrations and drive-bys. Today he is working as a TV cameraman and photographer in Asia, particularly in Japan.

Comments are closed.