The magazine of the photo-essay
October 2020 back issue
Chernobyl2016 to Present Day
“A free, really high quality photo-essay magazine. Fabulous!” Stephen Fry. British actor, writer and film maker
On April 27, 1986 people in cities and villages of the Chernobyl zone heard a notice of a temporary evacuation because of the “adverse radiation situation”. Tens of thousands of people left their homes, assured by the Soviet government that they would be able to come back in a few days, taking only necessities with them for this short period. Unfortunately, most people didn’t see their homes again. From 2016, I’ve been working on a long-term photographic research project “Untitled Project from Chernobyl”. This is a time-crossing project that explores memory, territory, atomic energy and nature. It started as a contemplation of emptiness and silence of abandoned territory. I was fascinated by how entire villages and cities were disappearing under heavy branches of trees and shrubs; by how nature was being recovered after human error. And soon it turned into an exploration of the past, that existed in the Chernobyl zone long before the nuclear disaster. Abandoned, nearly destroyed houses, like historical museums stored so many memorable things of those who left in a hurry: old films, family albums, postcards, letters - all these years the memories had been exposed to nature and radiation. For about two years, I was engaged in the search for the artifacts of the exclusion zone, for their restoration and creation of a digital archive. Moving from one house to another, going through heaps of garbage, I learned about the inhabitants. Lost memories were everywhere: on the floor and under broken furniture, some of them destroyed, some still intact. It was impossible to predict whether found films retained at least some images. At the end, among photos eaten by mold, appeared smiling faces of people, their holidays, wedding ceremonies, the birth of children, everyday routine and travels. This was the life of Chernobyl before the world knew about it. The project aims to contribute to the rediscovery of Chernobyl, by combining the deserted and silent landscapes with archival materials found in the restricted areas. Thus showing the remnants of a life that was lost and for families who had to leave their homes in a rush. Sometimes, when I was in Chernobyl all alone, I imagined that I was in the future and only from these little bits of history did I know that terrible truth that destroyed an entire civilization.
by Maxim Dondyuk
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