Dispatch from Japan: Photographs by Dominic Nahr

Dominic Nahr—Magnum for TIME
Dominic Nahr—Magnum for TIME
A young survivor before she goes to sleep, at a Daiou temple in Minami Sanriku. March 29, 2011

TIME contract photographer Dominic Nahr is documenting the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Nahr, represented by Magnum Photos, arrived one day after the 8.9-magnitude quake hit on March 11.

From a post updated on April 3, 2011.

For the final days of his assignment in Japan, Nahr camped out at a Daiou temple in Minami Sanriku where survivors were living together and laying the dead to rest.

Most of the town was wiped out by the tsunami. But the temple, which is situated on a hilltop, was spared. “My translator and I had been sleeping in the temple for five nights along with dozens of other survivors,” Nahr said via email. “It was one of the most important experiences I had since I had entered Japan because we finally had the chance to connect closely with people.”

At night in the temple, he spoke to families that fed him and made sure he was safe following aftershocks. He described how the priority was to keep the elderly warm, and he photographed the Buddhist funeral ceremonies that were being done in groups and in an abbreviated form so they could accommodate all the families that lost loved ones, many without a body to mourn.

“The Japanese tradition is one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in my life,” Nahr said. “There is a collective dignity that survives any misery. Tradition is evident in every part of life, whether it’s during the graduation ceremonies where children have their feet together, hands folded in front of them, or in the way they take leave at a grocery store with no groceries, bowing a graceful goodbye.”

“In the end the hardest place to leave wasn’t Japan, the northeast or Minami Sanriku,” he said. “But it was leaving the friends I had made there. They took care of us selflessly within dire situations, not rattled by aftershocks or sickness. I am thankful and will always think of them.”

From a post first published on March 22, 2011

TIME contract photographer Dominic Nahr is documenting the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Nahr, represented by Magnum, arrived one day after the 8.9-magnitude quake hit on March 11, 2011.

Most recently Nahr has been covering the relief efforts taking place around the country traveling between Tokyo and hardest hit areas in the north. On a visit to Sendai he documented the crew of the USS Ronald Reagan as they worked to reach isolated parts of that region.

In a conversation late last night he described huge aftershocks rocking the 20th floor of his hotel in Tokyo when he was transmitting this work.

From a post first published on March 14, 2011

Nahr spent the first night with several other journalists on the floor of a house in Fukushima. “Quite a sight: six guys huddled together like sardines covered in blankets,” he said.

The next morning, the group piled into two tiny cars and started driving. “We were on a small road toward the coast and passed a checkpoint,” he said. “Suddenly we were in a wasteland of cars, debris and houses.” Minutes later, he photographed rescue workers walking through the rubble with two victims covered in a blue tarp, a solemn scene that sadly will be repeated over and over as the rescue effort continues.

Nahr, who also covered the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti last year, said the situation in Japan is vastly different. “Haiti was very unorganized, but within the chaos, it was easy to move around and also easier to get supplies. Here both are difficult because of strict rationing and sections of devastated areas [that are] cordoned off or just unreachable.”

“There are a lot more aftershocks here, some very powerful,” Nahr, reporting from Sendai, said on March 14. “There must have been over 50 since we got to the hotel.”

The fear of a nuclear meltdown continues to loom heavily on everyone in the region. “You never know. The wind changes,” he said, referring to the threat of drifting radioactive clouds. “None of us knows what it means if one of these reactors goes.”

Note: This gallery will be updated regularly with more of Nahr’s photographs from Japan.

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