Re-imaging Hiroshima

Train to Hiroshima. from Dean Keep on Vimeo.

After presenting at a media conference in Kobe on Monday 16th November I boarded a bullet train to Hiroshima. My father had been stationed at Hiroshima with the British Commonwealth Occupational Forces almost 70 years ago and I have grown up with my father’s stories of the destruction he saw in Hiroshima.

As I sat on the train, I held my smartphone against the window to record the mediated traces of an unfamiliar world. I watched as urban spaces, factories, streams and lush green mountains came into view then drifted away as the train moved ever closer to Hiroshima, a city I have wanted to visit for so many years.

I grew up with the echoes of the Atomic bombing of Hiroshima. On return from Hiroshima, my father had brought back a collection of souvenirs, including a kimono, ceramics and photographs depicting the damage inflicted upon Hiroshima. I can still recall finding my father’s photographs of Hiroshima in a shoebox when I was a young child. Each photograph a gruesome diptych containing a before and after image, the two images separated by a thin white border, a horizon line. Here I’m reminded of Rothko’s paintings and how he used the horizon line to unify the picture plane, but in this case the thin white border which separated the before and after photographs was like a thin slice of time, a reminder that place, and the people who occupy it, could be erased in the blink of an eye, or the flash of an atomic bomb.

How do you photograph a place that you have never visited but has become familiar via the memories and artefacts belonging to my father? How do I connect past and present and blur the horizon line, to merge the thin white border that separated the temporal shifts in the ‘before and after’ images that my father brought back from Japan?
On arrival in Hiroshima, it was hard to shake off the black and white imagery etched in my memory.  As a streetcar came into view at the station, I was instantly reminded of a photograph in my father’s collection of images that depicted the remains of a blackened and twisted streetcar. As I stood waiting for the streetcar I adjusted to the my surroundings as the image of the past was enfolded by images of the present.

I looked up at some signage at the streetcar stop. There were clear directions on which streetcar number was required to reach the Peace Park and  A-Bomb Dome. As I stood waiting for the streetcar, I  wondered how the people living in Hiroshima felt about their city. Many tourists, such as myself, visit Hiroshima to view the remaining buildings and artefacts associated with the dropping of the A-bomb on August 6, 1945. The bomb wiped out most of the city and what greets visitors now is a modern metropolis. If the tourist signage was removed, the aftermath of the bomb would be difficult to detect.


But the A-Bomb information does much more than assist tourists in their search for the remains of a wartime disaster, these signs and shrines are sites of memory that link past and present, they are markers that aim to resist the dangers of forgetting and to install in the minds of others the importance of remembering those effected by the Atomic Bomb.

So with all of these questions and considerations, how does one go about capturing the visual traces of Hiroshima? After a week in Hiroshima, it’s clear that my first visit is just the beginning of this arts project.





~ by Dean on December 7, 2015.

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