Photobook Review: Hiroshima Graph: Rabbits abandon their children - Yoshikatsu Fujii

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Photobook Review: Hiroshima Graph - Yoshikatsu Fujii

Review by Jessie Boylan

History is not the past.
It is the present.
We carry our history with us.
We are our history.
If we pretend otherwise, we literally are criminals.

- James Baldwin from I Am Not Your Negro


What do these words tell us? These words that sit facing a black and white blurred photograph of a someone at the beginning of Yoshikatsu Fujii’s evocative handmade photobook, Hiroshima Graph; Rabbits abandon their children.

History is inside us; turn the pages from there. This is a clue, the first clue. This book is a puzzle, no, it’s a poem, a photographic poem of the horrors of a part of history that one place can contain, one place we do not yet know, and are not sure we want to.

There are people, then there are rabbits, then ferns, then bones. More clues appear. Scratched into the surface of the earth, the buildings, the trees, but more importantly, into memory. This book traverses proximity. We are close, we are far away, we are in the past, we are in the present, we can look out or we can look in. We can find ourselves amongst the everyday, or in the sublime. It’s empty and it’s full. It’s marked, scratched, cracked, broken, overgrown, hidden, revealed. Its’ surfaces remove and replace themselves with each turn, with each clue, with each line.

Inserted carefully are small black and white pages; things are on fire, there are barrels, who are these people? What is happening? What happened here? This place knows, this place has seen. Turning through pages in rich and simultaneously muted colours, textures and tones, we begin to learn of the 7.46 million poisonous gas shells produced by the Imperial Japanese Army during the second Sino-Japanese War, of which 6,600 tonnes (80%) was produced on Okunoshima Island in Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan, between 1931 and 1944. The gas was used against Chinese soldiers during the war in China, estimated to have killed about 80,000 people. 

Just as the images start to make sense, as history begins to be known, more pieces of the puzzle start to appear. We find ourselves navigating maps and craning to understand the machinations of this event. Drawings, diagrams, gas masks and documents give the viewer a sense of decoding, of unscrambling something that shouldn’t make sense. I hold my breath, and then release. What about the rabbits?

Now a tourist destination, Okunoshuma is nicknamed ‘Rabbit Island’, both because of the large rabbit population that grew and thrived due to the warm climate after they were released at the end of the Second World War, and because of the use of rabbits to test the effectiveness of the chemical weapons produced there.

We carry our history with us. Baldwin’s words make more and more sense throughout this book, and Fujii’s skill at slowly revealing, but never too much, honours the viewer and pays homage to the impacts of a painful history almost too unbearable to be told.

Yoshikatsu Fujii's website

Jessie Boylan is an artist based in Central Victoria. She primarily uses photography, video and sound to explore environmental, social and psychological disturbances and ways that art can engage with our catastrophic times. Spanning a documentary-based practice, Boylan is interested in collaborative practice and the boundaries and blurring of fact and actuality through modes of affect and disruption. She is a member of Lumina, an Australian women’s photography collective, as well as the Atomic Photographers Guild, an international group who aim to render visible all aspects of the nuclear age


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