Fotografías de la memoria tras el tsunami | Alejandro Chaskielberg | TEDxRiodelaPlata

Translator: Gisela Giardino
Reviewer: Sebastian Betti Recently, my daughter and I decided
to give away some toys she no longer used. She’s six years old, and asked me
for a camera to take a picture of them. It was easier for her to farewell her toys if she could take a picture
before giving them away. Because she doesn’t want to forget them. Because pictures help us remember. We grab our cell phones to snap
when we feel something is special. When something moves us, we feel the urge to capture what we feel and keep it in an image, in a picture. However, we don’t print photos
on paper like we used to do, we share them in social networks,
or we upload them to the cloud. Photography turned into something
intangible, something virtual. But, what happens when we lose
or erase our digital photos? Those in your computer, in that
hard disk or in your phone. Is there anybody here
who never lost a photo? What would happen if, for some reason we would lose all of our parents’ photos or other loved ones
who are no longer with us? How are we to remember them? Going back to our photos from the past
is like opening the doors to a dimension where lots of memories
we seem to forget still remain. And those images from the past,
those cherished treasures can help us propel ourselves
into the future, as well. I am a nighttime photographer. I make portraits under moonlight,
in nature, close to the water. I ask the people I photograph
to remain still and silent for several minutes amidst darkness. Meanwhile, I walk around them
to light them up and light up the landscape with lanterns. It’s a moment of quietness and connection. I went off to live in the islands
of the Paraná River Delta for two years. I took with me an old camera without knowing very well
where I was going, neither what was I to find there. And in time I came to know the islanders, and I invited them to be photographed
under the full moon to recreate their daily life routines
and jobs, but at night. And I took photos of loggers,
hunters and dreamers. People living in isolation, whose
only direct relationship is with water, to the rhythm of the river highs and lows. And that visual work in the Delta
led me to travel around the world, and took me to Japan. I was searching for a new story to tell. I wanted to work again with a community
which had some connection with water. And it happened that the curator
of my exhibition, Ihiro Hayami, had relatives in a small fisher town and went with me for a visit. Ōtsuchi is located between
the mountains and the sea. It’s a fifteen-thousand-people town that in March 2011 went through
the worst tragedy in its history. It was washed off by a tsunami with waves tall as a five-story building. Even though the alarms went off many people didn’t believe it would be
so strong, and remain in their homes. As a consequence many people died,
close to a 10 percent of the population. And 70 percent of houses were washed away. This is why every local in Ōtsuchi
has either friends or family who died in the tsunami. The power of the waves pulled the houses
off their base and the sea gulped them up. Survivors were left with no shelter and had to endure a winter with
temperatures below zero Celsius. Amidst this chaos and total destruction many people were trying to save
their family photos. An officer of Japan’s Self Defense Forces recovers a photo album inside
a house in total ruin. There it was the picture of a child. The officer holds the album
as if he were holding the child. I traveled to Ōtsuchi with my daughter
who was five month old at the time. And the contrast of a baby in the middle of such desolation
was impressive. People would take her off of my arms
in order to kiss her. And I’d wonder how to tell this story that happened a year and a half ago. What could be positive out of
such level of destruction. The first thing I found were
big piles of rubble made of all kind of things. Twisted objects that speak about
life as it used to be in Ōtsuchi. Like this vending machine or this fishing elements, car remains … or what’s left of a house. A lamp turned into a Moebius strip, the symbol of infinite time. As a contrast to these mountains of rubble there was this town flattened by water. The skeletons of the houses,
marked on the ground were empty spaces, filled with stories. So I invited the survivors
to go back to those spaces where their houses or
workplaces used to exist. And many accepted, but in general,
the kids didn’t want to. I photographed them during the night as they remained silent and still during the ten minutes each photo took. The scenes were so sad, nothing had color. She is Haruko Okano, a librarian, and she’s sitting on the remains of
Ōtsuchi’s Library, where she worked. This is the Second Volunteers
Firefighters Squad of Ōtsuchi inside of what was the fire station. The fireman standing up was in charge
of closing the anti-tsunami gates. This is Yoshihiro Ogayu,
monk of Kogan-ji temple. The temple was a refuge in case of tsunami
but even so it was destroyed. His dad and his son died there. When that first trip to Ōtsuchi was over I found a photo album
in the middle of the street. It had laid there for a year and a half
without having anyone pick it up. It was all wet, heavy and it stank
just like a dead animal. It was tainted with color bubbles
gushing from the photos that blended together. I took a picture of it without giving it
much of a thought and I came back. Once in Buenos Aires,
the Ōtsuchi experience felt much like a far away dream. It filled me up with doubt: Why did I have to tell this story,
if I came from the other end of the world? What did it had to do with me? Why had I photographed the survivors
in black and white if the reference of my work is color? And while I made myself these questions,
my own life began to crumble. Soon after breakup, my daughter’s mother
went off to live in another country. So I took on myself Lara’s upbringing,
she was a one-year-old baby. Project Ōtsuchi was put on hold, because now it was me the one
who had to survive and reinvent myself. And some months later, revisiting the work the family photo album image
popped up again. But in this second view
I grasped it in a different way. I thought I saw a painter’s palette. So I took the main colors of that album to create my own color palette. And I used those colors created
by the force of the tsunami to color the images of the survivors. And little by little, all the gray scenes
turned into something colorful. I used color as a bridge to connect
the present and the past, as the hub between their photos and mine. Now I was feeling connected
with Ōtsuchi once again. Two years passed since
until I was able to return to Japan to search for other recovered photos and find new colors to paint with. There I met Mikio Komukai,
a nice man who had this NGO that was recovering family photos
to send them back to their owners. And with his help and the permission
of Ōtsuchi’s government I gained access to that impressive archive
of thousand of destroyed photos. Contemplating those pictures
I realized the intangible damage the people of Ōtsuchi were facing; the damage to their memory and identity. Those blurred images
were the measure of their loss. The firefighters of Ōtsuchi. I traveled a total of six times to finish
the project and publish a book. And this is the last picture I took with my two assistants,
Mayumi Suzuki and Kazuhiko Chikaoka, who both lost their parents to the tsunami. We built an arch with plastic tubes which they arranged in different positions over the remains of this house. And if you look carefully at the photo you will see that their hands
are holding this house of light. In 2016 the government of Ōtsuchi
invited me to show my project, but I had a feeling that it was not over. There was something left to do. So I suggested that we put together
a collective exhibition which we set up in the gymnasium
of a temporary school. And we invited high school students
and the people in town to take photos. Now the kids did want to join in. We gave them disposable cameras
with one assignment: to tell their lives in pictures, their intimate whereabouts. Five years away from the tsunami
there were children back in the streets taking photos, recording its life. And together, in community,
we created a small photo archive of what Ōtsuchi is today. The people in town took pictures
to create new memories: The memories of the future of Ōtsuchi. As for me, I started my own photo album telling my life and my travels with Lara. And here we are in Japan,
saying goodbye to the sea of Ōtsuchi. Thank you very much. (Applause)

4 thoughts on “Fotografías de la memoria tras el tsunami | Alejandro Chaskielberg | TEDxRiodelaPlata

  1. Una de las más conmovedoras y mejores Charlas TED que he podido escuchar y ver para seguir aprendiendo y continuar disfrutando con nuevos conocimientos y experiencias.
    Mis cálidas felicitaciones al fotógrafo Alejandro Chaskielberg, a quien siento como una extraordinaria persona por su humanismo. Un fuerte abrazo con mi respeto y admiración.
    Ricardo Vargas Trepaud

  2. Excelente experiencia y excelente fotógrafo, gracias por compartir su charla!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *