Photojournalist Allison Kwesell traveled to Ishinomaki, Japan, in November to capture these portraits.
I f you had minutes to flee a disaster and could take only one item, what would you choose? Most people name a possession that is often impossible to replace: their photos. In Ishinomaki, Japan, which was obliterated by an earthquake and 20-foot tsunami last March, survivors escaped with their lives and nothing else.
Photojournalist Allison Kwesell traveled by bus in November to Ishinomaki from Tokyo, where she is a Rotary Peace Fellow, armed with two cameras, photo albums, and donated Fuji instant film. She joined two photographers who had formed Photohoku, named for the Tohoku region, where the disaster struck. The nonprofit aims to help survivors build new albums – and new memories.
“As a journalist, I often feel that I am taking stories from the victims of disasters, war, and poverty,” Kwesell says. “I believe such stories have the power to effect change, but my photos and words might never directly help the people who let me into their lives.”
This trip was different. The team asked survivors if they’d like to pose for photos, then gave them the instant prints. The photographers started albums for them and listened to their experiences.
Kwesell recalls photographing a woman with her grandchildren in front of their temporary home: “She told me she was happy I chose to photograph her there, because it gave her the courage to move forward. She said she believes that one day, she and her family will look back on the photo and remember what they overcame.”