(Loose Joints, 2020)
By Dan Rule
It’s not too much of a stretch to frame the 2011 Japanese Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami as a kind of Baroque cultural event. The catastrophic scale and drama that scored the events of March 11 – carried and recirculated amidst our ocean of digital images – invoked the kind of visceral emotional response that few others in recent history have managed to approach.
In his recent book for Marseille-via-London publisher Loose Joints, UK photographer Giles Price tackles the quieter, albeit more insidious sphere of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, a large-scale radiation leak triggered by the destabilising effects of the earthquake and tsunami. More specifically, Restricted Residence grapples with the Japanese government’s attempts to repatriate several of the region’s 150,000 inhabitants with their homeland, despite the Fukushima prefecture’s exposure to extreme levels of radiation.
At first glance, Price’s methodologies aren’t exactly a light touch. Using a thermal imaging camera, his photographs cast the landscapes, architectures and townsfolk of Namie and Iitate in a toxic glow, brilliant reds and yellows searing through a sea of cooler blues and lurid greens. The manner in which the ink pools atop this slim volume’s smooth, coated stock only adds to the alien effect.
But there is pathos to these images, with Price’s photographic language veering closer to a more traditional documentary signature. Here, public gatherings and social and environmental portraits offset nondescript rural landscapes. The portraits are particularly compelling; their humanity dares to unravel the images’ otherwise sinister, scientific tenor. And it’s amidst this strangely prophetic dialogue that Restricted Residence – which features an engaging essay by nuclear power expert Fred Pearce – really finds its feet. Little did Price or Loose Joints fathom the possibility that a viral pandemic would sweep the globe in the months following this book’s release; and little did they realise how relevant these images would prove to the year that lay ahead – a time in which our body temperature has assumed a whole new set of implications.
The Baroque consciousness flourished after centuries of the Black Death stalking the European continent, and in 2020 photography is grappling with a new spectre of malevolence. In Restricted Residence, Price foretells the present condition, from one disaster to another. For all our specificities and subjectivities as humans, in such times of crisis, our bodies become units of measurement from which the state conjures and implements control. Science may be the epitome of enlightenment, but it is those who wield and translate its findings into policy who we must fear.
Perimeter x Heavy is an editorial collaboration exploring contemporary photography, art, design and their various relationships to the published form. Produced in-house by the team at Melbourne-based bookstore, publisher and distribution house Perimeter and Sydney-based photography magazine and online platform The Heavy Collective, Perimeter x Heavy comprises book reviews, interviews, studio visits and features. While further expounding the published output of artists who feature across both Perimeter and Heavy’s inventories, the platform aims to provide thoughtful insights into the wider here and now of contemporary publishing practice.