Michel Huneault
at Gaspé


Views from Tohoku

Promenade Jacques-Cartier, between Jacques-Cartier (known as O’Hara) Point and the Musée de la Gaspésie | Gaspé

Michel Huneault, Montréal, Québec | michelhuneault.com

Before devoting himself to photography, starting in 2008, Michel Huneault worked in international development. His career took him to some 20 countries, including a full year in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Born in 1976, he holds a master’s degree in Latin American Studies from the University of California at Berkeley, where he was a Rotary World Peace Fellow, studying the role of collective memory following large-scale trauma. At Berkeley he was also a student and assistant of the photographer Gilles Peress, a member of the Magnum Photos cooperative, and later apprenticed with him in New York. Today his practice focuses on the problems associated with development, with personal and collective trauma, and with complicated geography. Michel Huneault’s work includes his project on Lac-Mégantic, which won the 2015 Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize, and Post Tohoku, another long-term project, on the impact of the tsunami in Japan.


Views from Tohoku

On March 11, 2011, the Tohoku region, located on Japan’s Pacific coast, was devastated by a triple catastrophe: an earthquake, a tsunami and a nuclear accident. There were over 1, 800 deaths, 6,100 wounded, 2, 600 disappeared and 128,000 buildings destroyed. How is it possible to live in or close to such a bleak landscape one year after the events and over the years ahead? How is it possible to describe the long-term effects of such a catastrophe in order to understand and to move forward? Will Tohoku rebuild itself, both physically and in our minds?

In 2012, 14 months after the events, Michel Huneault traveled to Tohoku with those questions in mind, dividing his time between volunteer work for redevelopment projects and documentation of his experience by means of photographs and videos. In late 2015 and early 2016, close to five years after the tsunami, he once again traveled the 250 kilometers of the Japanese coast – from Fukushima to Kesennuma – believing that a vision that grows over a longer period of time is essential for apprehending the subtleties of the evolution of traumas and rehabilitation, and for understanding how a ravaged territory and its population can renegotiate a future together for itself.

Views from Tohoku are two composite panoramas taken from this long-term work. In shot/countershot style, the two tableaux were captured along a single anti-tsunami wall from the Watanoha neighborhood to Ishinomaki in 2012, a year after the tsunami struck.