About the project “Prisoner Road”

The words “Seen” and “Unseen” are often used to describe one of the fundamental concepts of photography. I believe it is one of photography’s roles to make visible that which is difficult or impossible to see. With my project “Roadsight Lights,” which began 14 years ago, I try to capture unseen parts of our normal everyday lives in a way that makes them visible to the eye.
In contrast, my new project “Prisoner Road,” which I started two years ago, is a process of envisaging the unseen. The Prisoner Road in Hokkaido is a grave historical fact but there are almost no traces remaining today that let us visualize the situation that unfolded 130 years ago. The only things I was able to find in the past two years are a chain used to tie prisoners together and a single photograph of a temporary prison built during the road’s construction. Written texts related to the construction of the road, such as records of prisoners’ sentences or documents about the region’s local history, still exist in ample number as they were created and maintained by the government.
While some sections of the road built by the prisoners between 1886 and 1894 are still in use today, they have since been rebuilt and renewed and no longer tell us anything about that time. The unused parts of the road have almost entirely overgrown with trees and bushes.
Within these conditions, I try to follow the events from 130 years and hope that my photographs may help you envisage the reality of the Prisoner Road.