Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Elephants in the Exclusion Zone
On Canada Day, my family and I saw a remarkable series of about twenty photographs by David McMillan at the York Quay Centre, Harbourfront. These photos were taken in the now uninhabited 30 k Exclusion Zone around the Chernobyl Power Plant over about fifteen years. Some photos are taken in the same location and document what has happened to playgrounds and pathways during ten years. Unlike, the web images, the photos in the exhibition are beautifully executed and printed. They have great sharpness and detail.
Here is an excerpt from McMillan’s comments on the project, taken from his website.
“Shortly after the accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, 135,000 people were evacuated from an area extending 30 kilometers around the damaged reactor. In 1994, eight years after the accident, I read a magazine article describing the condition of the area, which became known as the exclusion zone. Many of the artifacts of the citizenry were left behind, and thousands of acres of formerly productive farmland were left to lie fallow. My photographic interests had long been in the relationship between nature and culture, so the subject seemed very rich in possibilities. I was intrigued enough to arrange a visit, and in October of 1994, I went to photograph the exclusion zone for the first time. Even though the area was closely guarded, I was permitted to travel and photograph freely. I recognized that the subject was large and complex, offering me the opportunity of making photographs that couldn’t be made anywhere else. These photographs are the result of eleven visits.”
The photos have a strange otherworldly feel to them. A metaphysical fairytale de Chirico Sleeping Beauty quality, a somber bittersweetness, and quietness. Of course, knowing what they represent changes them. You can also imagine the people, the children that would have inhabited the images before the accident. Things change: the forest is taking over the towns and cities. The landscape metamorphosizes. The children are now adults. The accident changed those who were there – physically, psychically, and spiritually.
I remember that I was in Ireland at the time of the accident. Stories of a malevolent nuclear cloud were all over the radio so we drove west, as far away from the source as possible. At a restaurant, I ordered a Chicken Kiev. I was joking about how it came from the Ukraine, where Chernobyl is. Then it arrived, burnt.