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'Do you see what I see?'

Looks can deceive and what you see is not always an accurate reflection of reality

A Malaysian photographer has drawn the ire of many after publishing a set of photos purportedly showing the chilling aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The 27 "never seen before" photos were posted on Facebook by Mr Keow Wee Loong on July 10.

Mr Keow's accompanying captions were fairly dramatic. He wore a gas mask when he entered the exclusion zone or Red Zone, as he felt a "burning sensation in his eyes and a thick chemical smell in the air".

He did not bother applying for a special permit "as it took too long" and snuck in through the forest to avoid the police.

Many of the photos show Mr Keow exploring the town alone, in places like abandoned houses and convenience stores. "The radiation level is still very high. I could still find food, money, gold, laptops and other valuables," he added.


Malaysian photographer Keow Wee Loong (left) seen in the vicinity of Namie station in Fukushima; on the right is a researcher at the same site. Mr Keow’s photos, which purportedly show the chilling aftermath of the nuclear disaster, have attracted criticisms about his motives, authenticity and ethics. PHOTO: FACEBOOK

His photos went viral, with more than 125,000 likes, comments and shares. Several publications like CNN, The Daily Mail and The Guardian reported on it.

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When interviewed by Time about his work, Mr Keow said: "I like to photograph places where people don't go."

But he has also attracted criticisms about his motives, authenticity and ethics.

Polish photographer Arkadiusz Podniesinski claims Mr Keow's account was sensationalised and much of it fabricated in a bid to gain fame. To illustrate his point, Mr Podniesinski put up a map which apparently showed that all of the photos Mr Keow took were in Green or Orange Zones. These areas can be accessed by anyone.

In addition, the nearby areas were frequented by repair crews and tourists, and were in no way as desolate as Mr Keow's photos made them out to be, he asserted.

"Photographers and writers of unreliable and inaccurate texts, which are then replicated by hundreds of media outlets around the world, create a false picture of the current situation in Fukushima," Mr Podniesinski said.

Since then, pictures of tourists and officials in the same spots Mr Keow was photographed in have emerged.

On reddit, a nuclear engineer who supposedly works for the Japan Atomic Energy Agency took issue with Mr Keow wearing a gas mask for protection against the "chemical smell" but donning a pair of shorts and a hoodie. "You cannot feel and smell radiation. And it's not a gas," he said.

There has also been a backlash from some Japanese residents, who called Mr Keow thoughtless and irresponsible for going into private properties in the zones and sifting through other people's possessions.

Expatriate and Fukushima resident Xan Wetherall was one of the detractors. He called for people not to spread Mr Keow's work. 

"Not only is what he did illegal, but beyond disrespectful to victims of the disaster who had no choice but to leave their homes. Additionally, his post is full of misinformation ," said the English language teacher. "Please help promote this beautiful prefecture, not damage its image further for posterity and Internet fame."

Mr Keow, for his part, stands by the work he has put up.

In a lengthy Facebook post on July 19, he called Mr Podniesinski's map inaccurate, and insisted the photos he took were the best he could do, given that he had neither a guide nor the luxury of time.

"I went in to Fukushima to document the devastating consequences of nuclear power," he added. "I deeply apologise to the residents of Fukushima and Japan if they felt that I have disrespected their home by misrepresenting Fukushima in such a bad light, but it is what it is."

The post had its fair share of supporters.

"I applaud your bravery even after your resources to conduct your business in safety were lost. I hope that your thirteen hours of exposure do not harm you later on but that is not how the brave think," said one Facebook user.

RIDE TO REMEMBER


Mr Li (right) and his Uber driver Andrew, who has a hearing disability. Mr Li said he was inspired by Andrew’s attitude, courage and sense of responsibility. PHOTO: LI GUANGTONG / FACEBOOK

A simple chance encounter between a deaf driver and his passenger in Singapore has been warming the hearts of many Facebook users.

Financial adviser Li Guangtong was at first puzzled when he boarded his ride last Friday night as the driver appeared unresponsive when spoken to.

When Mr Li realised the Uber driver, named Andrew in the social media post, had a hearing disability, he decided to sit in the front passenger seat instead of staying at the back.

Mr Li says the 25-minute journey which followed was an enriching, yet humbling experience.

"Being a talkative person by nature, words cannot describe how uncomfortable it was for me that the person beside me could not communicate with me in the way I know how," he said. 

But he soon found a way to communicate - by typing messages through the phone.

Andrew's history soon became known to Mr Li. He was born deaf and was a lighting and electrical draftsman before losing his job.

He took up driving in order to support his family - a wife who also had hearing disability, and three children who can hear and speak.

When Mr Li alighted, he persuaded Andrew to accept a $50 tip to buy something nice for his children.

"I realised my $50 is small compared to the valuable lessons I learnt in this short time," said Mr Li in a post that has attracted 7,000 likes, comments and shares.

Mr Li was inspired by Andrew's attitude, courage and sense of responsibility. "If we slowed down a little to reflect, (our challenges) can be solved as long as our heart is healed first," he said. "It's always about perception and attitude."

JUSTICE WITHIN ARM'S REACH

Imagine an app that records a video and sends it off to the police department as soon as the recording stops.

While it certainly sounds useful, the twist here is that it is not meant for criminals.

The rise in the number of videos depicting police brutality in the United States has led to reports of more officers attempting to confiscate evidence before it gets released on social media.

The circumstances surrounding the death of Mr Alton Sterling earlier this month is one such example. 

The owner of a convenience store where Mr Sterling was shot point blank several times by the police said the officers stole his surveillance tapes, confiscated his cell phone and locked him up for four hours.

Mr Sterling's death led to mass protests and an investigation by the US Department of Justice.

The app called Mobile Justice, with the tagline, "Justice is within your reach", aims to prevent the wrongful confiscation of evidence.

It was put out by the American Civil Liberties Union, and covered only a handful of states. It also has a "witness" feature which allows other users to detect a person's location, and rush over in case things go badly.

It was released more than a year ago, but has been making its rounds as more states were added to the app's database in response to heightened tensions between the police and the public.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 24, 2016, with the headline ''Do you see what I see?''. Print Edition | Subscribe