Help Japan: Interview with Hisashi Murayama

After being hit by a magnitude level nine earthquake on March 11 and subsequently suffering a tsunami and meltdown of a major nuclear power plant, Japan is continuing to receive aftershocks at magnitude levels four and five or more. The nation of Japan and its people are suffering through the disastrous consequences of this devastating catastrophe. We at Leica Camera AG could no longer sit by and watch our friends, colleagues, business partners, customers and the people of Japan suffer without taking action. Today we are launching the Leica “Help Japan!” campaign to raise funds for the Japanese Red Cross Society and we will be collecting donations through Sunday April 10.


We wanted to gain a better understanding of the current situation in Japan so we spoke with photographer Hisashi Murayama who is on assignment in Northeastern Japan for the French newspaper Le Monde. Hisashi was born in Fukuoka, Japan and went on to study at the International Center of Photography in New York. For the first time in his career, Hisashi is doing reportage photography work in order to show the world what is happening in Japan. We would like to thank Mr. Murayama for sharing his story with us.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your history as a photographer? When did you first become interested in photography? Do you have any formal training or were you self-taught?

A: I studied photography at the International Center of Photography in New York from 1998 through 1999. I have been influenced by the work of different artists – painters, photographers,  filmmakers.

Q: Your recent photojournalism work documenting the damage done by the earthquake and tsunami is very different from the images on your website, which are more poetic and literary. Have you done other reportage work in the past or is this a recent departure? What compelled you to make the transition?

A: I would not consider there was any transition in myself at all. I have simply been photographing in accordance with my sense/feeling and, witnessing the crisis of my own country at this time, I thought to myself, “What can I personally do?”  Coincidentally, I got an email from the French newspaper Le Monde asking me to photograph the aftermath in Northeastern Japan along with journalist Mr. Jerome Fenoglio and serve not only as a photographer, but also as a translator. It might be categorized as photojournalism in a general view; however for me, photographing and telling stories have always been my way of expressing myself to others and to move someone’s heart.

Q: What brought you to these coastal cities to document the aftermath of the tsunami? Were you sent there on assignment to cover the events or did you travel there first without a specific assignment?

A: This was my first reportage work.  The opportunity was given by Le Monde.

Q: What is the biggest difficulty you’re encountering while shooting in the aftermath of recent events?

A: At first, I was too puzzled to do anything. I wasn’t able to find a way to confront not only the victims, but also to the sights because the situation was so severe. As I continued photographing and interviewing the victims, I was able to feel their strong wishes of letting people know what the real situation here is and what they are going through. I realized that this is what I could do as a person and photographer, to show what is happening here and tell their stories through the media.

Q: How have people responded to your work, both those being photographed and others viewing your images?

A: Most of the people I photographed and interviewed were willing to share their stories and experiences. Some were too shy to be photographed, but I tried to explain how important it is to show their images along with the stories. As for the viewers, I have not heard much feedback except people from Le Monde and a few comments on my Facebook page when I posted links to the Le Monde website.

Q: What was your initial reaction to the devastation you witnessed when you arrived?

A: I don’t know any words that could come close to what I felt.

Q: What, in your opinion, can we be doing to help Japan?

A: I think people can help in various ways depending on their situation. It could be by donating money or products or helping as a volunteer in the devastated area or you could send lot of prayers. I believe it’s important to not let this event just be something that happened on the other side of the world. Just to sympathize with the victims could be a big help. Our recovery from this disaster has not even started yet. What the city and the residents have lost will never be regained. The emergency workers may not be able to reach every single person. It will take five to ten years or more just to recover from what they have lost and build a new life. What is important is the process of it and I believe I will document these processes and the stories. We must not think of it as a transient disaster.

-Leica Internet Team

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