Jake Price Fukushima, Japan


Jake Price


Jake Price was chosen by Hiroki Kobayashi




Laatikkomo’s interview with Jake Price 2.5.2015

L:  Where are you from? Or what cities, and/or countries have you lived in – what places have influenced you?

JP:  I was born in New York and raised in California, however, upon moving to California at 5 I yearned to be back on the east coast. I associated with the seasons from that early age and remembered missing them which turned up as being an important focus in my current work, The Invisible Season which explores the fallout in Fukushima. While I’ve traveled to many different places in the world, from Kosovo to Sierra Leone to Pakistan to Rome it’s Japan and in particular the Tohoku region that stands out the most for me and I consider it as much as home as I do Brooklyn where I also live.

Returning to the idea of seasons: The seasons change dramatically and beautifully in Japan and with the changing seasons people’s mindsets also change. However now there is a constant which does not change in people’s minds in Fukushima which is the invisible  radioactive taint that is always there—the taint has become a neverending season in people’s lives that both immutable and mutates all life it touches. For a society that embraces nature as the Japanese do (and specifically the people of Fukushima) the poisoning caused by the meltdown takes upon an intolerable significance as it embeds itself into the very fiber of life the same way a virus might infect a cell. In a way the radiation is a virus—just as a virus mutates a cell, radiation does the same to the building blocks of life. However the release of this radiation was caused by humans—it is a human virus infecting the natural world which ultimately we are a part of.


L:  What is your first memory of photography/film?

JP:  I saved up money any way I could for a Nikon 6006 when I was around 16 and paid in dollar bills and I think pennies as well. After purchasing it I then had the camera shipped from California to Oklahoma where my grandmother lived to avoid the tax. Once in OK on a family visit, I got in a car and drove around the vast and flat landscapes there. On the day I took the camera out for the first time I drove for hours.

At one point on the horizon I could see billowing smoke rising. I followed it to its source which led me to a white wooden house that was set ablaze. I was fascinated by what the occasion revealed about the neighborhood. All the neighbors came out to look at the fire and I used it as an opportunity to photograph people looking at the flames. It gave me an opportunity to see a part of them I wouldn’t be able to capture otherwise. The flames too were powerful so I photographed those as well, at one point going nearly into them because it made a strong photo. The fire fighters seemed other worldly emerging from the black and gray smoke that mingled with billowing white clouds of steam produced by the water from their hoses. It was a terrific first time photographing and I’ve never stopped since.

Later in the day I photographed an austere minimalistic barbed wire fence which I later submitted a photo competition, a requirement of a photo class I was taking—and  nearly  failing because the teacher wanted us to photograph puppies and flowers not stark barbed wire fences. Thinking about the Native Americans who died on those lands due to the American Genocide I called the photo “The Indians.” The teacher hated the photo and I think barely passed me with a D- in the class. If passing with a good grade meant photographing puppies and flowers then I felt I was doing something right in getting the grade I did. In fact, true recognition would have been a straight out fail!

Thematically, my whole life was encapsulated in that first day of photographing.


L:  You are a documentary filmmaker and photographer – and now perhaps media artist as well. How is the use of these techniques different or similar for you? And how do you choose which technique to use – or do they always work hand in hand?

JP:  I’ve found that it’s very important to make choices and concentrate on one medium when working.

Unknown Spring taught me how to make those choices. I was overlapping photos and stills much too much and I am not a fan of mixing video and still unless there is a well thought out understanding of how one will compliment the other, so for The Invisible Season I decided to stick with moving image for the most part. It let me focus and concentrate on filmmaking—as a result when I did photograph the photos were better because they were taken with more consideration.

Sound is also really important to me and I’ve found that it informs my photography. When I’m working, for example, I’ll take a couple of minutes and just close my eyes. By doing that, entirely new perceptions open up. When I open my eyes I am aware of things I wouldn’t have seen before. It’s a misconception that photography is seeing—it’s perceiving and for us to perceive we must be open to all sensation. The blind are some of the best photographers I’ve ever seen.

As far as media art is concerned, I love working with technologists, an art director for the web and some tremendous architects for large scale installations. Because traditional media outlets are so limiting and reluctant to innovate, I felt totally liberated with the possibilities that working online offered. I also do not consider myself a journalist but as a conveyor of stories.

Working on the immersive online projects I began to understand entire new vocabularies (I learnt but am in no way fluent in HTML5, CSS, Java and have gained a great appreciation for these languages and what can be done with them.) From that learning experience I was opened up to new pathways—literally. Unknown Spring was comprised of two ways of entering into stories and from that foundation we have now produced installations that were born on the web but now experienced in the physical world where visitors walk through corridors of translucent imagery within a soundscape at first designed for online. In the end the logic of both spaces are the same. Ultimately it boils down to the logical way of expressing a story that can be experienced in a variety of ways.

L:  Your work, “Unknown Spring” is an extensive almost 4-year project that follows Fukushima in the aftermath of the tsunami and the nuclear power-plant meltdown. Is there a sole instance that stands out in your memory like an island in the sea of your experiences there?

JP:  There are many experiences that stand out in my time in Fukushima, most of them treasured because I like the people there so much.

However, in relation to the meltdown, yes there is one afternoon that stands out. I was shooting in an abandoned school 4km from the power plant that had thousands of radioactive rods hanging from scaffolding. Although it didn’t make headlines the planet was in grave danger because if one of those rods fell then the rest would go. Each one contained the devastating potential of a Hiroshima bomb. And that was just one reactor! There were 3 more nearby in a state of meltdown (they are still melting down). It was a silently terrifying experience to be so close the the source that had the potential to end life on the planet with one false move.

Shooting in the school was one of the eeriest experiences I’ve ever had. The school was mostly intact, however devoid of life due to the radiation. As I worked in the empty hallways and classrooms that still had traces of human presence I felt like I could see a ghost in the daytime. It was that haunting. Moving from room to room I worked quickly thinking about all the lives that were imperiled because of the meltdown and the callousness of building a school right next to this monstrous energy power plant.

I started thinking about our disconnection from nature as a species. I thought about how in the greedy time we live in, how, in the rush to make a profit, we’ll say anything even if it means placing a time bomb next to a school and next to some of the world’s most fertile land that now produces nothing.

On a larger scale there are ecological time bombs everywhere in modern life—it isn’t just Fukushima. We’re doing the same thing to the planet every day through our use of outdated fossil fuels. If we are to continue on as a species then we need to seek to live in harmony with nature otherwise the planet will respond by warming it or flooding it as it’s beginning to do now. As a result of the warming we’ll be gone and then in a few million years perhaps some other creatures that have climbed out from the depths will give it another go. Still, I’d like to think that we will not go just yet and appreciate the wonderful planet we have.

Note: Unknown Spring incorporates the beginning of the Fukushima tragedy however focused on the entire effects of the tsunami while the Invisible Season solely focuses on Fukushima.


L:  It seems that more than documenting a tragedy – like a news story – you are telling the visceral story of a place and a people that could be from anywhere, with or without tragedy. How much is tragedy necessary for creating an interesting film, or sparking the interest of an audience?

JP:  I made a choice early on not to only focus on the tragedy—it’s the backdrop that my characters find themselves in.

When I look at media coverage of our world I increasingly find myself not caring about it because the news is unremittingly negative and so what’s there to like about this world as seen though tired old lens of the traditional news outlets? All they do is compound misery upon misery, defining people as products of tragedy rather than the individuals that they are. So, my goal was to give back some individuality to the people I documented—I sought to find beauty in the devastation which then makes the beauty all the more profound and worth fighting for and holding onto—it becomes a gem that stands out amidst the darkness.

I have never flinched from witnessing the horrors of the world, however I try to transcend the suffering by looking for the sublime in people and their cultures. If I can show those things then I hope that we will be motivated to preserve what we have.

I see the situation in Fukushima then as a metaphor for the planet as a whole. In the ecological destruction there are wonderful things and those are the things we should devote our attention to and fight for.


L:  In several interviews that you made about your projects in Tohoku (Fukushima), you mention that you began the project with no financial support and that this was, in the end, probably for the best: that this gave you the freedom to make what you wanted without a timeline and forced you to learn new skills because you could not afford to hire people to work for you. If, in the future, you receive funding for your creative projects, how do you envision maintaining this same kind of freedom for creativity and personal growth?

JP:  The next project I’ll be working on is documenting island cultures in the time of sea rise and unlike the Japan projects I will be raising funds from the onset—but with conditions.

I’ve demonstrated that spending time in a place pays off and that getting to know people is essential. Otherwise what’s the point of documenting them?

Now that I am not dependent on the superficial sense of time in the news business I make sure that my investors know that the project I am embarking on will require the same pace of my previous work if it is to be meaningful. That said, in the end one must always deliver and there’s a fine line between dithering away time and giving yourself enough of it to really say something important. Deliver deliver deliver—it’s a mantra. But if a person is to deliver anything of substance then it has to come with the freedom for the *creator to have the time to understand and feel what they are seeing. In turn, I think this is also beneficial for investors because then they know that their support is for something truly special.

*I am uncomfortable with the term artist—this is a job and I am a worker. Time therefor is simply a requirement for the work the same way a toolbox is for a carpenter. And then when the time is up and the material gathered one must go to work and get it done.


L:  Having spent almost 4 years working in areas affected by radiation and natural disaster, you have both an inside and an outside perspective on the situation. What political resolutions do you see as necessary in order to prevent this extent of destruction in the future?

JP:  Sometimes I found myself getting cynical and it was like taking poison for me, so I stopped paying attention to the day to day politics. Sometimes I wondered if the politicians had any love in them at all because look at the world they’re leaving us by their shortsighted decisions. But to continue thinking like that is pointless and I don’t think creates the kind of dialogue I want.  So I tell my stories through the voices of the people who live there and hope that they reach the politicians so that a sense of caring awakens in them. I should note that sometimes my characters express political views which I then incorporate into the film as it’s their voice.


L:  Could you list 5 (or more) words that you were thinking about when you made this work (shown in Laatikkomo)?

JP:  Life cycle (and the mutation of it)


reclamation (of human spaces by nature)





Thank you so much Jake!!