Grounded ships

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It is doubtlessly a peaceful image: blue sky, calm sea view with an ever-receding horizon, ships thrown somewhat haphazardly on the sand. When I gave this Urban Fruit Street Wrapper, created by Esther Polak and Ivar van Bekkum, to my friend Dik, his first guess was that this was a beach in Greece. We had been there many times and in summer time, ships are often put on the beach. He was dead wrong.

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Concern about the environment was a dominant theme after I had woken up to the world, which happened only around my 15th birthday. I was a slow guy, my first fifteen years I was basically not really paying much attention. Too comfortable in the warm embracement of my mother and father (and brother and sisters). But after I was propelled into the real world (by an acute life threatening disease), the environment was one of the two main topics I was shocked about (the Klu Klux Klan and racism in the US was the other topic). I read Silent Spring by Rachel Carson and a pile of related books. This continued after I started my study in chemistry at the university (after my 17th birthday). At the time, we were particularly concerned about chemicals and nuclear energy. Now being 62, I still read and think about environmental issues, although I do not share the alarmist approaches by some environmental movements any more. The world is not yet near its end, some problems have clearly been solved (air pollution in Europe), other issues have become much more pressing (air pollution in Asia), and some may be inevitable (species extinction).

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So, it seemed natural to pick Fukushima as the scene for my Urban Fruit Street Wrapper. It is a beautiful image which is at the same time the condensation of horror and human arrogance. It captures the magnitude of natural storms (which will probably always far exceed human powers) in the simple image of these huge ships thrown on the beach. It shows the limits of our predictions: the designers of the nuclear reactors apparently did not count on the combined forces of a tsunami and an earth quake. [Although we know that all possible combination of events will at some point happen.] It shows the consequences of greed and too much trust in bureaucracy.

It also performs the paradoxes of living and dying, because, inexplicably, even after thinking about all this, for me the image retains its beauty.

Amsterdam, 31 December 2013

text and photography: Paul Wouters

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