Beachcombing With John
beachcomb [beach′comb′] (bēch′kōm′) v. - an activity that consists of an individual “combing” (or searching) the beach and the intertidal zone, looking for things of value, interest or utility.
「Beachcombing with John」について
About "Beachcombing With John":
Back in 1995, the big earthquake that hit Kobe, also known as the Hanshin Daishinsai, had laid across its path, the destruction of many buildings, and more importantly, the loss of many lives. I vividly remember that I was at home with my mother, and looking around at our home, most of which had collapsed due to the intense tremors. I also remember that my father was out of town and my siblings were living in difference cities. Remembering the impact the earthquake has left on me, I became aware of the crucial difference between myself, a person who was experiencing the calamity first-hand, and the people who weren’t there, even people who are family. This difference in perspective left a lasting impression on me, and somehow I was interested in it…
It was 16 years later, in 2011, when another devastating earthquake hit, and this time it was in the Tohoku area, northern part of Japan. The intensity of this earthquake and its location also caused one of the biggest Tsunami to hit Japan. I was living in Singapore when the disaster happened, and I found myself on the other side of the spectrum, being a person who was not experiencing the calamity first-hand. I remember that I was sitting in front of my TV, just watching, trying to absorb the situation. I remember that I must have continued to watch the news as it unfolded for 2 weeks straight…
I recall that before and after the disaster settled down, many photographers went to the Tohoku area to photograph the disaster-stricken areas. It was only after several years that I myself, had the chance to visit the same areas. During my visit, I tried to photograph what I have seen, but I was almost not able to; not because there was not much to photograph, but because I simply did not know how I could/ should capture and express what I saw and felt. I was hoping to find the right way for me to photograph it as a person who experienced such a disaster before – as a person who would be longing to take the image of how someone’s, reality or way of life, can easily be “overwritten” whenever a disaster, like an earthquake or tsunami, happens in my country, Japan.
After a while, I heard that many items that get washed ashore in the United States’ Pacific coast, were believed to be part of the tsunami debris from the 2011 earthquake in Japan. I also heard that there was someone in the USA who has spent time collecting the tsunami debris that got washed up on the shore. I became more and more interested to meet and visit this person. Maybe this person, and where he lives, could give me another perspective about the impact of the 2011 earthquake in Japan. If I wasn’t able to “see” the image when I was there in the disaster-stricken area, maybe I would be able to “see” and photograph is from a distance?
How do I capture how these items, these parts of someone else’s past, has come a long way and traveled about 70000 miles across the Pacific Ocean from Japan all the way to the United States?
Who is this person who was waiting for these debris to come, and why, somehow was collecting them? Who is this person who has built an entire museum by himself, and dedicated it to the items collected from the beach?
As I, myself, planned to travel from Japan to a small town in the Olympic Peninsula, Washington State, on the North Western coast of the United States, I was imagining a lot about what I will learn and find out.
As I arrived, I met the owner, and got to see all of the items in “John’s Beachcombing Museum,” and I was left speechless… John had been a plumber, and beachcombing has been his hobby and personal passion for the last 40 years. I also found out that the tsunami debris he collected was only a small part of his beachcombing collection. As I spent more time with him, he taught me more about the ocean, currents, tides, the beach, how the debris move across the ocean, and how they get washed up on the beach. The more I got to spend time with him in his home, in his museum, in his cabin, and on the beach, the more I understood how he saw the world through his beachcombing – just like how a photographer would see the world through their photography. Because of this, I started to think about many other things for my photography, and not just about the 2011 earthquake or tsunami debris.
After I came back home to Tokyo, I immediately started on a project to make a photography book about John and his beachcombing. When I was selecting and editing my images, I was also remembering the time when I was younger, I was also living in a city near the United States Pacific Coast. I recalled my memory of looking through a big window at the ocean and always thought, “Somewhere across that vast ocean, is Japan”. Even back then, I was feeling a sense of distance while traveling back and forth between Japan and the United States. Maybe in this way, I myself, could also be debris taking the long journey across the ocean.
The last 2 years has been difficult for me as a photographer. I was quite confused and lost about my photography, and I asked myself many times on what photography meant for me, or what kind of photography I should pursue. I started being a photographer many years ago, yet the more I ask these questions, the more confused and desperate I feel. In that way, I felt that I was like the debris, drifting in the ocean. Did all the questions I asked myself helped me to get to somewhere already? When will I arrive to the end of my journey? Working on this project, whenever I feel uncertain, I think of John, who’s probably out there, alone on the beautiful beach, riding his buggy and trying to find more debris, even today. This thought somehow gives me a warm feeling and courage to keep going and continue my journey. This thought could be the hope or healing that I was searching for somewhere deep down in my heart. If I decide to continue to grow, and keep doing my photography, I’d like to share the story of “Hope” through my photographs. I may need to travel far and wide to find these hidden stories somewhere in the world, but it would be still nice and should be worth it.
Even after tragedies, time still passes by, currents still drift, the tides still change, the sun still rises, and there will be someone who picks up debris. All I needed to do was just to point my camera at it.
Atsuko Murano Abalos