Photographer snaps peaceful scenes of a city once destroyed | The Asahi Shimbun

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HIROSHIMA–When photographer Hitoshi Ouchi is on the scene, scurrying from one vantage point to another, he almost never takes his eye off his viewfinder to avoid missing the decisive moment.

Inspired by his grandfather’s pre-war photos, Ouchi, 65, changed careers late in life so he could pursue his lifelong dream of photography and his passion for capturing peaceful scenes around this once war-torn city.

While working as an official photographer for the city for the past 13 and a half years, Ouchi has had the distinction of getting up-close with foreign dignitaries visiting Hiroshima to capture their likeness, including then U.S. President Barack Obama in 2016 and Pope Francis in 2019.

“I feel a sense of responsibility that comes with capturing a new chapter of history,” Ouchi said.

He was recently on duty to take photos of the Aug. 6 Peace Memorial Ceremony to commemorate victims of the bombing 77 years ago. He said he was determined to show future generations how Hiroshima has bounced back from the catastrophe.

But it was not long ago that he had almost given up on becoming a photographer.

Ouchi lives in the city’s Naka Ward and had served as a clerical worker at a printing company until he was 51 years old.

One of the works that inspired him to be a photographer is currently on display at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum: a massive panoramic photo from pre-war times that takes up an entire wall.

It is a historically valuable piece of material, he said, which shows the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, a site now commonly referred to as the Atomic Bomb Dome, and a busy downtown area once located near the epicenter that was leveled in the blast.

Measuring 2.5 meters high and 10 meters wide, the photo is the first exhibit visitors encounter at the museum and has been there since 2017.

The powerful image showing what life was like there before the city’s destruction in 1945 was combined from three photos taken by Ouchi’s grandfather Wakaji Matsumoto (1889-1965).

Matsumoto was running a photo studio in the central part of Hiroshima at the time and was spared from the atomic bombing because he had moved to Jigozen (present-day Hatsukaichi) in the western part of Hiroshima Prefecture three years prior.

Ouchi had played with cameras in his home from an early age and yearned to become a photographer.

He began to pursue his ambitions and joined a newspaper club in senior high school and later a photography club at college, but he stopped after that for a steady job.

Even after he started working as a clerical worker, he still harbored regrets about not pursuing a career as a photographer.

In 2008, when Ouchi was sorting through his grandfather’s personal effects in a closet at his relative’s home, he found about 2,000 photos that were stashed away in a cardboard box.

They showed the everyday lives of residents in Hiroshima in the years before the bomb went off.

When he saw how his grandfather had so vividly captured people’s peaceful lives, Ouchi made up his mind to return to his dream.

In 2009, he applied for the photographer position at the city government after finding it in a newspaper classified advertisement and has been working there ever since.

When Ouchi takes commemorative photos of foreign guests, he tells them “okonomiyaki,” and shows them a drawing of a Japanese pancake—Hiroshima’s specialty–to draw out their natural smiles.

But usually, he likes to focus his lens on flowers, festivals and children playing innocently.

“I want to record scenes of everyday life that are relaxed and peaceful,” Ouchi said. “It’s because I think that is what peace really is.”

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A cityscape of Hiroshima taken by Hitoshi Ouchi’s grandfather Wakaji Matsumoto in 1938, which shows the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, now commonly known as the Atomic Bomb Dome, in the left corner. (Provided by Shizue Kawamoto)


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