‘The Wanderer and the Mist’ is an artwork by Sam Doctor taken for his 2018 series You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.
In August 2017 Doctor gained access to film within the exclusion zone of the Fukushima nuclear plant. He was offered false cover by two residents, a father and daughter, who pretended he was the daughter’s fiancé as they set out, on a strict time allowance, to inspect their damaged home. Police patrol every cross street in the exclusion zone on the pretext of protecting public safety but in effect enforcing the government’s strict secrecy around the site. Doctor captures these former residents in their hazmat gear, looking more like a forensic team than displaced people. But their white suits invoke mourning as much as (symbolic) protection from invisible toxins: they are at the same time victims, witnesses and detectives. The landscape they once inhabited is still and beautiful, yet not only uninhabitable but positively lethal.
Doctor uses video in tandem with photography, confounding the notion that ‘photographs taken come not just in the aftermath of the event, but in the aftermath of video’. Here each medium complements the stillness of the artist’s gaze. The composition and titles of the stills reference German Romanticism and the cult of the sublime, as well as make explicit the aesthetic masking of terrible human and environmental damage. The video follows the residents on their solemn ritual of mourning and inspection, but juxtaposes this with the slow billowing steam emanating from the geothermal landscape of Beppu in southern Japan, a place known by locals as Hell. Hot springs are renowned for their therapeutic effects but, in a powerful contrast, the artist instead harnesses their ability to embody the pervasive toxicity of radiation.