Japan Tsunami Photos: Horrific Art of Destruction

Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

No doubt you’ve seen some images from the earthquake and tsunami like these here from the NY Times/AP. The devastation in Japan is horrific, as is the state of affairs, the deaths, missing people, damaged lives and immeasurable property damage. Unthinkable sadness.

The photos too are extremely powerful. In kind, in their quietness, in scale. In short, they are completely surreal. The ability for a photograph to tell a story in a single moment is undeniable. This is journalism, but were it not for a natural disaster, the subject matter of the images reads like a fine art of destruction.

The world’s head and heart are with you Japan. More shocking and surreal images captured by AP reporters in Japan after the jump.

Kyodo News, via Associated Press

Kyodo/Reuters

Kyodo News, via Reuters

Kyodo News, via Associated Press

To see a dozen more of these images, visit the Asia Pacific photo gallery here at the NY Times.

[Images from AP and NYTimes via the respected agencies cited below each image. Post inspired by Rachel's over at A Photography Blog. Text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation to Japan tsunami relief or click here.]

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55 Responses to Japan Tsunami Photos: Horrific Art of Destruction

  1. DanielKphoto March 14, 2011 at 10:56 am #

    Too bad what’s going on there, don’t know what to say about it. I’m keeping my fingers crossed it’s not going to get any worse…

  2. Darryl March 14, 2011 at 11:02 am #

    Images like these have a profound ability, if you let them, to draw you in and humanize the events as they unfold. The danger is, if you allow it, is to let it become just another interesting photo that you saw. From over here we can only let our imaginations try to come to grips with the level of devastation and tragedy that people are (and will continue) to endure.

    • Chase March 14, 2011 at 11:03 am #

      cannot argue the power of a photo….

      • Samuel March 14, 2011 at 6:16 pm #

        Well said Chase. Photos have a way of conveying the message when words can’t.

    • Matt lawrence March 14, 2011 at 11:08 am #

      Well said, Darryl. It’s difficult for me to grock what the aftermath of this kind of destruction would be like. It’s time like these which make me hope that prayer actually works, I just don’t even know where to begin.

      • Chris March 17, 2011 at 3:24 am #

        a helping hand helps more than a million hands clasped in prayer

  3. Pedro Dominguez March 14, 2011 at 11:04 am #

    This is a horrible catastrophe to the people of Japan.

  4. jefgibbons March 14, 2011 at 11:04 am #

    Thanks for keeping this on our minds Chase. I was one of the six that met you last week at Vincent’s workshop, and I wanted to let you know what I know… I was in Sendai 1 week before the workshop, right at the epicenter. I work for a studio that produces children’s books and animations/ video doing music and sound for audio books and DVDs (all from my studio in Vancouver).

    The studio that I work for was almost completely spared (there was some significant damage of one building), all the people are safe, and the 2 ESL schools affiliated with the studio were also spared.

    It’s surreal seeing places I just was in that are now destroyed, I couldn’t be more thankful that I just missed it, but feel so helpless worrying about friends and their families.

    Anyhow, just wanted to post some stories of hope amidst the destruction.

  5. Jake March 14, 2011 at 11:07 am #

    I’m having a hard time justifying the juxtaposition of “horrific” and “fine art” being next to each other in the same sentence. Certainly, without a doubt there is something about these photos that makes you look (we’ve all been gawking at them–with Reuters getting most of the “money” shots).

    But to say that they are fine art really removes the humanity from them. With thousands dead, hundreds of thousands without homes or electricity, and radiation fallout just starting to waft into the scene, I don’t think we are close to the worst of it. I have friends in Japan who are living the worst post-apocalyptic reality right now; actually living it.

    To write, “were it not for a natural disaster, the subject matter of the images reads like a fine art of destruction,” may just go too far.

    I personally do not see this as fine art.

    But that’s just my opinion.

    • John March 14, 2011 at 11:52 am #

      Respect the opinion. My impression from your statement was that it bordered on overanalyzing. It’s not like Chase was dehumanizing the events unfolding in Japan, or commercializing it for that matter. He’s just talking about it from the perspective of a photographer and visual artist. It’s just a different perspective. If photography is art, and these moments are why photography exists, then these images are the purest form: a visual communication of a feeling, idea, or concept, and the documentation for historical purposes.

    • Michi March 14, 2011 at 5:41 pm #

      I’m with you.
      This is real. What we are seeing in those photos is death.
      It could be your family. It’s powerful b/c it’s real.
      You probably wouldn’t call this “Art” if your loved ones or whatever you built were in it.
      Many families are not united yet. Some b/c they are in those photos.

    • Chase March 14, 2011 at 7:52 pm #

      Fair statement, Jake. Didn’t mean to cross wires. I said this below, but missed your comment…

      my goal, so you know, is trying to suggest an elevated dignity to these images as something more than journalism…an amazing care put into the image to capture something so moving as to illicit compassion and understanding….along the lines as what jon said below… “The power of an image is to facilitate understanding… to rescale an event into something that anyone can grasp and feel…”

      didn’t mean to cross wires with your sentiment. just processing this internally myself as well… thanks for your comment.

    • Chase March 14, 2011 at 8:04 pm #

      Fair statement, Jake. Didn’t mean to cross wires. I said this below, but missed your comment…

      my goal, so you know, is trying to suggest an elevated dignity to these images as something more than journalism…an amazing care put into the image to capture something so moving as to illicit compassion and understanding….along the lines as what jon said below… “The power of an image is to facilitate understanding… to rescale an event into something that anyone can grasp and feel…”

      didn’t mean to cross wires with your sentiment. just processing this internally myself as well… thanks for your comment.

  6. Ted McAusher March 14, 2011 at 11:12 am #

    Horribly powerful images. Just unimaginable pain in Japan right now. I second Daniel in keeping hope that there wont be anything more.

  7. Brendan March 14, 2011 at 11:20 am #

    Very surreal, they will last forever. I for want of a better word like the one of the house on fire while in a flood, it just demonstrates the insanity of the situation. The wrongness of it all…

  8. rich March 14, 2011 at 11:22 am #

    amazing … horrifying at the same time…

  9. AJ March 14, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    Amongst all the destruction, the Nikon factory at Sendai was also hit really badly. Luckily all the employees got out safe and sound but it looks like the D800 and D4 won’t come out for a while.

  10. John McGarity March 14, 2011 at 11:59 am #

    Thoughts and best wishes to everyone affected directly and indirectly by this. Keep your head up and looking to the sunrise. And much appreciation to the people out there putting themselves in harms way to keep us all visually aware of whats been happening. Be safe, & get home to your loved ones when you can.

    • Mike March 14, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

      Who gives a damn about some stupid new camera? Last time I checked, digital cameras have been awesome for years.

  11. Jon March 14, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    All the grand images of destruction, and this one ( http://i.imgur.com/tcVQD.jpg ) is the hardest one to look at. The power of an image is to facilitate understanding… to rescale an event into something that anyone can grasp and feel. I have a 5 year old daughter, and this image with context just ruined me. I am a 30 year old man crying in a coffee shop.

  12. Mike March 14, 2011 at 3:12 pm #

    Fine art is a very poor choice in words. I’m not sure if you realize how that sounds? It’s witnessing a tragedy with an eye for detail…but not fine art. Sorry, I just read that title differently than you.

    • Chase March 14, 2011 at 7:49 pm #

      Mike – understand your thoughts. my goal, so you know, is trying to suggest an elevated dignity to these images as something more than journalism…an amazing care put into the image to capture something so moving as to illicit compassion and understanding….along the lines as what jon said above… “The power of an image is to facilitate understanding… to rescale an event into something that anyone can grasp and feel…”

    • Chris Bernard March 14, 2011 at 10:03 pm #

      My thoughts exactly Mike. As I scrolled down to reply I seen you post. I’d personally retitle this post if it were mine. I understand you Chase that you are trying to elevate th… I don’t know “profoundness” …of these images. But understand “fineart” is dehumanizing and not very respectful to a country that holds respect in very high moral regard I might add.

      Chris Bernard – chrisbernardphotography.com

  13. Adam Haworth March 14, 2011 at 4:26 pm #

    My heart goes out to the people of Japan this has been a world changing event and hopefully some good will come from this starting with the world uniting to help.

  14. Lori Rowles March 14, 2011 at 4:28 pm #

    I think the title kinda went down the wrong pipe for me too, but I am not as bent about it. I appreciate the perspective and LOVE the fact that these photos are marking a major historical event. They are profound and disturbing and REAL LIFE. Thanks for sharing them to help tell this tragic tale. My heart aches looking at them and my thoughts go out to all affected.

  15. jetgreen1 March 14, 2011 at 4:30 pm #

    Did they ever find Hoppers pic yet?

  16. Sho March 14, 2011 at 4:35 pm #

    I totally hear you, Mike. “Horrific” and “fine art?” Some even call the images beautiful. I first thought they were able to feel that way because it’s not happening to them, their family/friends or their country.

    But, many of them (Americans) are able to look at some images of World Trade Center on 9/11 and appreciate them as beautiful art. It’s their artistic points of view.

    My thoughts and prayers go out to all those victims and their families and friends of terrible disasters, past/present/man-made/natural.

    Thanks. Arigato.

  17. Vladimir March 14, 2011 at 4:54 pm #

    For all of you true Americans, please, distance yourself from these “true Americans”
    http://i.imgur.com/uZbK6.jpg
    For comments like this ones, the American nation in whole, should be ashamed, and for those that think just like “true Americans” from the link above, wish you all the best while surfing on tsunami waves.

  18. Jeffrey Friedl March 14, 2011 at 5:09 pm #

    Uh, do you have copyright on the photos you’re publishing here?

  19. Adam March 14, 2011 at 5:58 pm #

    Powerful imagery. Thanks for sharing.

  20. Hans March 15, 2011 at 5:08 am #

    Wow, this is probably the most inappropriate non-news blog entry I read regarding this horrible catastrophe.

    You should be ashamed of yourself.

  21. Matt Bostock March 15, 2011 at 5:30 am #

    It’s a shame that most of the photographers behind these images have lost their moral rights as artists and have gone uncredited by the New York Times.

    Chase: Out of curiousity, did you need permission to reproduce these images here?

  22. fas March 15, 2011 at 5:40 am #

    Very powerful photos indeed.

  23. Jeremie Curzon March 15, 2011 at 6:31 am #

    It’s heart wrenching to see what’s enfolding here in asia (i’m from Malaysia). There is a uneasy lull through this storm…and these photos speak so strongly…our hearts are out to Japan…perfect title Chase!

  24. Rebecca Jackson, GoodParentGoodChild March 15, 2011 at 7:20 am #

    How do you explain these images of devastation to your children?

    “Images seen on TV are sometimes impossible to remove from your child’s mind – they can last a lifetime. Words said by the parent can be softened and carefully chosen so their child can understand, but not feel too anxious.” Dr. Robert Pressman

    http://bit.ly/hTKVm9

  25. marvin Bartley March 15, 2011 at 7:31 am #

    Surreal it is! The magnitude of the the disaster and the way it was photographed takes away for me the horror from this a catastrophic event. However we are reminded in many ways that it is real and this fact returns the horror to what are very beautiful and disturbing photographs

  26. Mike March 15, 2011 at 9:35 am #

    Are you people really stupid enough to think that Chase is celebrating this tragedy?

    Or are you just looking for something to get angry about?

  27. claude etienne March 15, 2011 at 9:37 am #

    Fine art of destruction? I’m sorry Chase, but, as someone who lived through the earthquake in Haiti, this was really a poor choice of words. I couldn’t imagine someone using the words fine art to describe the devastation I saw. I have no doubt your intentions were good, but you could have chosen a different way to express your point of view.

    • Chase March 15, 2011 at 6:24 pm #

      @claude – no intention to offend here. you’re missing the point.

      i hope that after reading the post, that in reading the comments above, you picked up that my goal is actually in line with what you’re saying and not opposed to it. My choice of words was trying to suggest an elevated dignity to these images as something MORE than journalism…an amazing care put into the image to capture something so moving as to illicit compassion and understanding…
      along the lines as what jon said above… “The power of an image is to facilitate understanding… to rescale an event into something that anyone can grasp and feel…”

      the “fine” attached to art (which i have drawn a line through to recognize the objections) has nothing to do with the horror of the disaster, but only in regards to a photographic attempt to capture something of a higher stake than “just” journalism out of a respect.

      • claude etienne March 15, 2011 at 9:15 pm #

        Chase, thank you for your reply. I wasn’t offended. I understand your point of view better now. Ultimately, what is most important is that the people of Japan get all the help they need, and that their beautiful country can get back on its feet as soon as humanly possible.

  28. AlexY March 15, 2011 at 6:03 pm #

    WTF. sorry chase, trying to understand yo point, but posts like these bring out the fckn retards.

    but Fine Art? Lets see what you would call photos of your town, country demolished.

    Sorry man, go suck it.

  29. Chase March 15, 2011 at 6:26 pm #

    @ alexy. we value your opinion. the personal attack go suck it part is for the chumps, not this forum. i’m leaving your comment here only so i can respond to it on the merit of your concern for the actual point.

    rather than write my answer again, best to read my response to many of the above who shared a similar concern – espcially to @claude immediately above. thanks.

  30. Josh Long March 15, 2011 at 9:45 pm #

    If I had anything of value, car/house/ whatever.. I would sell it to be able to get a whatever camera, and a plane ticket there. I want to help bring funds to the victims of Japan through images for humanitarians and non-profit organizations. It kills me everytime I think about this what I could be doing to help out, if only I had a way. I was disabled in ’09 in Iraq, I was a medic for the Marines, and I had everything I wanted, car,mac pro,apartment, D3s, and about 15k+ in glass. Was moonlighting on the side, but wanted to pursue when I got out. However, it has been almost two years and uncle sam, still hasn’t paid my benefits yet, so I lost everything in bankruptcy. Barely with a temporary place to stay, and some food-stamps I am surviving.

    I know what it feels like to lose everything, (not to a tsunami) but in the same sense. I have lost everything a 23y/o man could lose. Dignity, pride, assets, and my wife.

    Photography is my life, and I feel compelled to do it. The only reason I haven’t driven myself crazy, is I am able to read photography books.. to keep me sane. So I want to thank you Chase, and everyone else who supplies information in the photography world to help others, and to keep me from dying. Hopefully one day I will get what I deserve from the military, and be with you men/women supplying the generation with information and beautiful, compelling images.

    • Chase March 15, 2011 at 10:27 pm #

      thanks for the great note, josh. much respect and gratitude to you.

      • Josh Long March 16, 2011 at 12:06 am #

        Thank you Chase, and even more to you. Whatever you do, never take what YOU have personally built with your HARD WORK for granted. The success that you have brought onto yourself, is second to none in my opinion. I hear a lot of people complaining, about “Oh Chase is so lucky, he gets to do this and that and whatever he wants..” And to comments like this, I shake my head to the ignorance of others, just looking on the outside.. Most people want the world handed to them, and when they see someone successful, they MUST be lucky. Pfft, they worked hard. They put in the man-hours. You were probably worked your ass off to get where you are today. Most people don’t know, but I read an interview you did with David duChemin, and how you started with your grand fathers equipment. Thats amazing. And how you worked hard at shops, to stay near the clientele you wanted, and liked being around, and how you persistently stayed in their minds, by insisting on showing them how good your work is, and how much passion you have for doing what you do. But that was the hard work* that you and only you put in. Yes, we watch your success in envy, longing to have that magnitude of success, and I will one day have a chance to do the same, hopefully. Until I win the lottery, or find a camera under my pillow from the Photo Gods, I will continue to keep myself occupied with your work and blogs Chase, because you stand above the ‘noise’ and actually post from experience and a general WANTING to HELP others.

        Congratulations on ALL of your accomplishments, and HARD WORK.

        -Josh Long

  31. Adam Leahy March 15, 2011 at 11:15 pm #

    Thanks for posting this, I used this as my discussion starter with my high school students. We talked about how an image set like this says so much, and conveys a lot of information. How many words would it take to say what this image set says. A lot.

  32. Anonymous March 16, 2011 at 2:20 am #

    Japan is in DANGER and it is really really surprising of how big these two distaters had occured. HOPEFULLY everything will come ack to normal in a WHILE … RIP to all those who had died and GOOD LUCK to all those who are suffering … keep your heads up for the future … =]

    • Lusiiah March 16, 2011 at 2:21 am #

      Japan is in DANGER and it is really really surprising of how big these two distaters had occured. HOPEFULLY everything will come back to normal in a WHILE … RIP to all those who had died and GOOD LUCK to all those who are suffering … keep your heads staright up all the way for the future … =]

  33. Paul Pratt March 16, 2011 at 7:09 pm #

    I think Chase makes a valid point here that a few people have perhaps misunderstood. If some guy just rocked up and took a crappy snapshot of the destruction without paying attention to the subject matter or composition it probably wouldn’t elicit quite as strong a response from the viewer as these well shot photographs. In this way the art of photography does convey the scale of the destruction and horror facing the Japanese people.

  34. FYI March 16, 2011 at 11:31 pm #

    No misunderstanding. It’s not those photos people were talking about. We know the purpose/importance of those photos and the quality. It’s good. It’s just his choice of words. Fine art.

  35. Weston March 24, 2011 at 3:03 pm #

    That is an insane gallery of images. I couldn’t even imagine… My prayers go out to them.

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