Trees and flowers grow defiantly at landscapes of war, conflict and genocide.
In Hiroshima, whilst interviewing the hibakusha (survivors) of the atomic bombings of 1945, I was told the inspiring story of Suzuko Numata. In the weeks and months following the nuclear blast, the traumatised people of Hiroshima looked around their landscape of ash, debris and radioactive waste and believed nothing would grow in the ruins for seventy years. However, the following Spring survivors noticed the first green shoots sprouting from the bombed trees. These signs of new life gave the people of Hiroshima courage to rebuild their shattered city. When Suzuko, injured, bereaved and on the verge of suicide, saw new leaves emerging from the Chinese Parasol tree, she felt hope and chose not to end her life.
I collected leaves from Suzuko’s Chinese Parasol tree and from other A-bomb trees known as hibaku jumoku (survivor trees). Later, visiting other landscapes of conflicts to listen to survivors, I noticed the resilience of Nature over human-made horror and destruction. So began a growing gathering of leaves, petals and flowers from the former Western Front in Flanders; Auschwitz; Sierra Leone; Nagasaki; Vietnam; the ‘Killing Fields’ of Cambodia; the Holy Land; and Ground Zero in New York. I arrange these flora onto glass by hand and photograph them using only natural light.
Perhaps through their ability to generate new life where everything has been destroyed, the flora of war not only reflect the fragile nature of our shared humanity, but expose the futility and waste of war. And how, when something is broken, it can, somehow, renew.