An Open Letter to the “Fukushima Exclusion Zone” Photographer, Keow Wee Loong

Hello, Mr. Loong.

You don’t know me, but–

Actually, perhaps you do know me. I’m the random nobody who, on Thursday, July 14, spoke out against your irredeemably reckless and irresponsible actions in Fukushima. Upon receiving such criticism, your knee-jerk reaction was to silence me by banning me from your photo album and deleting my post, which was wildly “liked” within mere minutes because it contained a truth that you could not bear to come to terms with. I wish I still had a copy of it lying around, but unfortunately, there’s not a trace of it left, thanks to your attempt at censorship.

 

I want to direct your attention to a post you recently made on your Facebook:

FB

 

Can you tell me what’s wrong with this?

No? I’ll tell you. You claim in your description of the photo album that you want to “spread the awareness of the danger in [sic] using nuclear energy.” Yet, now that your project has gained some traction, all I see are posts about how many interviews you’re doing, how successful you’ve become, and a complete and utter refusal to listen to a single dissenting opinion on the repercussions of your actions.

Mr. Loong, I have to ask: Are you sure this wasn’t just some publicity stunt, a last-ditch effort to get your 10 seconds of Internet fame? Because from where I’m standing, that’s exactly what it was: A cheap, disrespectful publicity stunt that oozes desperation in both its vision and execution.

Indeed, the worst part of all this is the blatant spreading of misinformation and lies for the sake of creating sensationalist drama instead of attempting to create a narrative through photos. That is art. You, Mr. Loong, are not an artist. I will not comment on your photography skills, or lack thereof, but I will say that this project was clearly designed to put yourself in the public eye–not to create a meaningful message about Fukushima for the world to hear. As a current resident of Japan and someone who has very close ties to Japan and has spent a significant portion of his life studying the country and its language, culture, and history, and as someone who hopes to continue to work toward a future in which East Asia can exist in peace and solidarity, I feel that it is my personal duty to global society to call you out on your irresponsible and thoughtless actions.

And I’m not alone. As one Redditor puts it: “After reading the whole post on Facebook, it seems to me he just wants people to know how cool he is for trespassing in a dangerous area. Rather than making an effort to capture the atmosphere or show how sad it is that all these people lost their homes and livelihoods, he just makes his friend take pictures of him standing around in empty shops wearing a gas mask.”

A nuclear engineer who works for the Japan Atomic Energy Agency voiced his own opinion and thoroughly debunked almost every single claim that you made in detailing the project.

And one Fukushima resident says:

“Not only is what he did illegal, but extremely disrespectful to victims of the disaster who had no choice but to leave their homes. Additionally, his post is full of misinformation about the disaster, radiation, and much more, specifically aimed at promoting the sensationalist image of Fukushima, rather than the truth.”

Please help us promote the positives of our beautiful prefecture, rather than damaging its image further for posterity and internet fame.”

 

But what is the purpose of this letter? What am I hoping to achieve with it? Is it some kind of personal vengeance, or the adrenaline rush that comes with feelings of self-righteousness? Am I trying to quash your career as a photographer? Do I wish radiation sickness upon you and your offspring?

Well, no. As livid as I’ve been about this whole affair, I’m rational enough not to harbor such feelings. But I want to open your eyes to the residents of this community that you have so blatantly shown disrespect for. I want to give them a voice, because they have been used, violated, and trampled on for your brief moment in the spotlight. I want to give you feedback on your work, because that is what artists require in order to thrive. If you are not willing to listen, then I am not willing to consider you an artist. You have no artistic vision or message for the world–for posterity. You want the power that comes with being famous, but for you, the people whose lives you exploit en route to such fame couldn’t matter less. Art couldn’t matter less.

This is where your entire project falls flat on its face and you become a smear on the face of Malaysia in the eyes of Japan.

 

Your tarnishing of Japan’s image for personal gain is irresponsible and distasteful at best, and a strong piece of evidence of the foolishness of man at worst.

 

Good day.

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15 comments on “An Open Letter to the “Fukushima Exclusion Zone” Photographer, Keow Wee Loong

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’m really sorry for his stupidity. What I can’t accept is that he and his friends were saying that if the disaster had struck our country (Malaysia), our immoral citizens would be looting off all the goods instead of leaving them, even with all the radiations, because they consider most of their countrymen don’t have any moral at all and are irresponsible. But the irony is that he himself is being the irresponsible immoral Malaysian by tresspassing a prohibited area and breaking the law of a respectful country. Please know that a lot of Malaysians are opposed to his action, but it seems that fame is the onli thing he’s after, so he doesn’t care abt we hv to say.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Pierce says:

      I feel equally embarrassed when an American gives the rest of us a bad name by doing something stupid and getting in trouble here in Japan, so I understand how you feel. Just to be clear, I completely understand that his actions in no way represent the actions of all Malaysians and want to focus on this particular act and not his nationality.

      Thanks for your input; no hard feelings against Malaysia by any means.

      Like

  2. gsavinophotography says:

    I am wholeheartedly agreeing with the content of this letter. But I am additionally infuriated by what used to be a respectable publication, TIME magazine, becoming an enabler, alongside with others, who picked up this (non)-story, doing yet one more disservice to true photojournalism, promoting senseless sensationalism by indulging Mr. Loong in his cravings for “ten minutes of fame”. Shame on them.

    Like

  3. Malaysian says:

    We as a Malaysian denounced his action on a strongest terms. His action was an act of criminal and should be punish by Japanese law.

    Like

  4. is there an extradition treaty between japan and malaysia, he has broken the law, trespass into a prohibited zone, he has endanger the life of other people and in a way encouraging people to break the law. he has supplied evidence of his crime himself. The Japanese gov should write in to Malaysia and get him arrested

    Like

  5. vnyx says:

    Reblogged this on Junkyard and commented:
    This is exactly what I thought when I saw his photo album shared by a lot of people in my fb timeline. I didn’t see status about being published in TIME Magazine or his boastful comments, but I have already felt there was something wrong in it. I was like, ‘OK’, in first pic when he portrait himself standing alone in the middle of mess, but then when I scrolled, I felt even more disgusted. Carrying bag? Taking picture of person “shopping like normal person in the middle of abandoned market”? What’s the point of taking a magazine rack when there was a “men’s magazine” in front of it? It didn’t feel like I was seeing a honest person wanted people in the world to know the state of Fukushima right now or the danger of nuclear fallout. It felt totally different than when I saw Chernobyl’s.

    For urban exploration and photography, I recommend https://abandonedkansai.com/ to you, dear readers. He has really nice photo and nice story in his blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Exactly, that’s what I 1st thought when I saw his post. I was like WTH is he thinking? All pictures focusing on him in a deserted area, but my main concern was ‘how dumb a person can be? Like seriously gas mask and short pants???’ There are reasons why that area is restricted, and how can you just break a law and post about it in FB with pride… And why is he not punished by Japan law instead make a debut in Time magazine?

    Literally face palm…

    Like

  7. Mitch says:

    Pierce, I tweeted out a link to your letter and I think some people have taken to thinking that I wrote it. Just wanted to say sorry about that. I’ve tried to set the record straight, and I’ll continue to do so. You did good work.

    Like

  8. cheamzj says:

    Your letter was very impressive. But I have to correct your mistake, you should call him Mr. Keow, Loong is not his family name.

    Like

  9. Deli says:

    Had me going with your open letter until you called out his work for not being art. The photographs are still well taken. Certainly the methods he went through publicizing his pictures and story are highly sketchy and he certainly has no motive to help people in Fukushima, but it’s not quite accurate to call him out for not being an artist.
    Take out the misinformation from the albums, maybe cut the private sector photos or at least make them more anonymous and add in proper paperwork filings just to cover all bases and these same photos wouldn’t have near the impact that he made up, but again, the photos are still art.

    Like

  10. Tom says:

    Keow apologized on TIME on22th July.
    http://time.com/4403093/fukushima-exclusion-zone-japan-photos/ ( [Update 7/22/16:)
    This letter is great.

    Like

  11. Mark Foreman says:

    I think that Mr Loong is a silly man, I can think of quite a few basic errors he has made. For example if the activity levels in air warrant a “gas mask” I would suggest that they also warrant hood, gloves, overshoes and a plastic suit. It is interesting to note that the majority of the radioactivity in the exclusion zone from the accident is in the form of cesium which by now will be mainly fixed to soil minerals. Rather than a true gas mask, I think you would be better off with an asbestos stripper’s powered dust mask together with an asbestos stripper’s suit. But I doubt if in many places (except for at the reactor park) you would need such protective clothing, I know that overheating is a problem for people wearing full protective clothing.

    Like

  12. Heta Rikala says:

    Hello. I’m another nobody who saw your post. And did this. I’m afraid its too little, too late.

    Like

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