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Hiroshima survivors, 70 years on

5 August 2015 by Sam

portrait photo of 3 Japanese women

Hiroshimo survivors Ikuko, Teruko and Takako, iPhone photo taken after their portrait session © Lee Karen Stow

Two weeks ago photographer Lee Karen Stow opened her exhibition Poppies: Women and War at the Museum of Liverpool. The exhibition features the incredible personal stories of many women from all over the world who have been affected by war.

The Poppies project is an ongoing one, which has taken Lee to Japan this week to mark the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. She reports from Japan on the eve of the anniversary:

“This photograph shows A-bomb hibakusha – survivors – Ikuko, Teruko and Takako. Each has shared their memories of the day of the bombing and what they experienced subsequently, in the hope that ours and future generations will cease to develop nuclear bombs and strive for a world of peace without wars. 

We ate ice cream, and drank endless cups of green tea. I was then invited to make individual portraits of each woman for the project and touring exhibition Poppies: Women and War. We had met privately in the office of a friend, the daughter of Teruko who herself devotes her life to peace-building projects worldwide.

We rolled up the blinds of the office to let in more of the late afternoon light and turned off the fluorescent lighting in order to make the portraits. I hope they will be okay. Once again I was struck by the dignity and humility of the women. Their eyes, reflecting the sunshine, had seen and suffered so much. Even in the years that followed as many survivors of the bombing were shunned and ignored. Now their numbers are dwindling and the world’s press is here, clamouring for a last piece of them, including me.

Yet many wish now to share their stories of the horror openly. It was a special moment, the three of them together, now in their late 70s and 80s. Teruko gave me the gift of her little wooden fan. The heat here is intense, 34 degrees and high humidity. The buzzing and singing of the cicadas is loud, as loud they say as they were August 1945.

Their individual stories I can share in October and November when I return to the Museum of Liverpool to give talks in the exhibition, as they are too long to include in depth here and I am typing this on my iPhone!

old building, with structure of ruined dome showing

The bombed dome in Hiroshima Peace Park © Lee Karen Stow

Tomorrow I will be at the Hiroshima Peace Park, at the site of the bombed dome, the terrifyingly symbolic ruin which has been left as it was after the explosion.

At 8.15am on the morning of August 6, 1945 the American warplane Enola Gay dropped the world’s first atomic bomb known as Little Boy over the city of Hiroshima. An estimated 60,000 inhabitants, adults and children, were incinerated within six seconds. Equally as many died in the coming days, weeks, months and years from burns, injuries, sickness and the – as then unknown – effects of radiation poisoning.”

Lee Karen Stow’s talks this autumn are part of a series of free events and workshops accompanying the exhibition – full details are on the Poppies: Women and War events page.

You can find out more about Lee’s travels in Japan on her website: leekarenstow.com/news/

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