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Nonoko with her twins.

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100 Mothers Against Nuclear Energy

by Nonoko Kameyama

Photographer Nonoko Kameyama tells the Ecologist how she brought her love of portrait photography and her concern about the impacts of nuclear energy together.

I have always been interested in human portraits, and fashion photography became a kind of job.  But it grew out of my love for taking portraits of the human face. I had such a strong passion about capturing the expressions of people going through suffering or joy - all different aspects of each person’s life.

But, as a profession and to make a living - it was not enough to take portraits. So I chose to take up fashion photography and commercial photography as a window of opportunity - to enter the wider world. It was very joyful. I really liked this profession. It was teamwork, and I enjoyed working with others to create and capture something beautiful. I was very excited to take pictures of a beautiful person, so it was not just to make a living, or to earn money. I always found joy in taking pictures.

The main outlets for my pictures were Elle Japan and HMV record shop, which have magazines. I took pictures of Japan’s major singers and artists.  But I never felt any kind of special pleasure simply because that person was well known - my pleasure came from whether I took a good picture. However, I still remember taking a picture of the bassist Ron Carter, one of the best jazz musicians; that was really joyful work.

I was one of the rare cases where I didn’t have to be a photographer’s assistant. I graduated from the literature department of my university and right away, I started to take photos. I am self-taught.

I have always been interested in the issues of peace, environment and social justice. When the invasion of Iraq happened, partly using Japanese money, I felt that there was something seriously wrong in it.  I asked myself: “can I do anything with my profession to stop the war?”

In 2006 I took a break and travelled to Nepal.  That was a turning point for me - my passion came back right away. I was taking pictures - capturing the joy on the faces of the people in Nepal; it was extraordinary.

But at the same time I was confronted by the poverty of people and the problems that they were facing, so I started to wonder what I could do. When I came back to Japan I joined two groups, one that tries to rescue children, Stop Child Trafficking, and the other group which promotes fair trade between Japan, Nepal, and Bangladesh. They asked me to help them make a catalogue to sell Fair Trade goods.  This is the first time I got connected with a social cause.  

Then Fukushima happened on 11th March 2011. I had twin sons who were then six months old. I worried - I said to myself “I do not want my children to be in danger of nuclear radiation”. I was living in Tokyo and it was only after that incident that I decided to collect through the internet, information about the nuclear issue and radiation. I recalled that this nuclear system is built on great sacrifices.  

This whole system of electricity and nuclear power had been established without proper regard to safety. So even after such a serious thing happened in Fukushima, Tokyo people were just going through the same regime every day; business as usual.  I couldn’t do it - I became angry and came to realise that without taking a stand, if I continued my profession, everything would become lies.  As a mother, whatever I say to my sons, all would be lies, with no truth in it.

I was alone then. I didn’t have friends with whom I could talk about this, and I had no power to be effective, but I really had to start something; do something.  Even if was a very small thing, I had to start; otherwise everything would be meaningless.  So it was in August that year that I left with my two sons; my husband was still in Tokyo.  I had a house and a nice job; so did my husband - everything was going OK. But I felt that for the future of my children I had to do something. By starting a new life I might lose everything; but I said if that’s necessary, that’s OK. I wanted to show people my determination - I had to do it.

I came with the two kids to the city of Fukuoka, far away from Fukushima. I came to look around and it was then I met some of the mothers in this city who were also concerned about the future of their children.  So I felt convinced that this was the right place, and then I talked with my husband.

What I said to him is that, now we know there is a risk, with our children living in Tokyo, what is the parents’ responsibility?  It is to reduce the risk as much as possible.  If I fail to do it, because of my profession, it’s just my ego.  So as long as our children are well and healthy, it doesn’t matter where we live - we can live somehow. If, after three or four years, some kind of cancer appears, then what do we do? Do we wait until then? If we know that by moving out of the place our children will be safe then we must do it. 

First, my husband was not that willing, but after I said that, he said “I understand - let’s do it”. Thus we moved out of Tokyo and came to live in Fukuoka.  One after another I met mothers who said that nuclear power producing plants are dangerous for our children; we must stop them.

I started taking pictures of these mothers, and joining demonstrations. One after another I kept photographing these mothers - suddenly I realised that I had taken photos of 100 mothers. So many mothers against nuclear energy!  To me, a hundred is like every mother. A hundred is a symbol because, no matter where they live - Fukushima or Tokyo, or Nepal, or India - mothers would protect their children.

But it’s crazy now in Japan; the atmosphere is very bad. There’s a feeling promoted by the media that mothers who are worried about the children and radiation are neurotic or nervous.  This is because there are big profits to be made through nuclear energy. But it’s ridiculous; I had to do something about this.  So I published these photos as a book and said  “look at these healthy and beautiful mothers; they’re not paranoid”.  Now my book is everywhere; it’s a great tool to spread our message!

I have to admit that at the beginning I was worried that if I made a book there would be lots of stern, angry, and depressed faces. I was afraid that I might end up with a depressing book; but soon I realised that mothers with children are always joyful, and there’s a dignity and a beauty. They are soft, but strong and powerful.  This tenderness, love, and compassion will open people’s hearts.

What I can do is connect with other mothers and men too, through photography; and build a movement for renewable energy which is safe for our children. The new phase of my work is 101, so everybody’s 100+1 – mothers and fathers. This book is not mine - it belongs to all those who are concerned with the future of our children.  I am only a medium to bring this together - I hope that this will be a tool for everybody.

Nonoko Kameyama




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