Forest. Exclusion Zone, Chernobyl

by Donald Weber

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Artist Statement

 

Some 20 years after the nuclear reactor incident of April 26, 1986, Chernobyl lies 100 kilometers north of the capital city of Ukraine, Kiev, in a boreal forest of winding rivers and dark bogs. This wilderness was known as the Pripyat Marshes, the historic refuge of the Slavic people from foreign invasions. That first morning, as the plume of radioactive debris fell across the land and into the rest of Europe, the authorities evacuated the city of Pripyat and created a 40-kilometer Exclusion Zone around it. The 50,000 residents had 15 minutes to leave, and never returned. Today a ring of silent fire surrounds these pine woods and abandoned apartment buildings. People are not supposed to live here; wild boars, rabbits and deer thrive in the lush greenery. Even the steppe wolves have returned. I began visiting this region because I wanted to see what was there. I had little interest in theories of history, or root causes. The question was simple: What was daily life actually like in a post-nuclear world? What I found was a haphazard community of survivors, and emigrants from other cities who told me they preferred Chernobyl's rural peace to the urban blight of Ukraine's industrial zone. They were all exiles: a self-imposed exile to the nation's peasant past and the relative safety of its prehistory.

 

Donald Weber

 

Prior to photography, Donald Weber originally trained as an architect and worked with urban theorist Rem Koolhaas' Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.  He has since devoted himself to the study of how power deploys an all-encompassing theater for its subjects; what he records as its secret collaboration with both masters and victims.

Weber is the author of two books.  His first, Bastard Eden, Our Chernobyl, won the Photolucida Book Prize and asked a simple question: what is daily life actually like in a post-atomic world?  His latest book, Interrogations, about post-Soviet authority in Ukraine and Russia, was considered by many critics one of the year's best photo books. 

He is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Lange-Taylor Prize, the Duke and Dutchess of York Prize, two World Press Photo Awards, PDN's 30 and was named an Emerging Photo Pioneer by American Photo.

His diverse photography projects have been exhibited as installations, exhibitions and screenings at festivals and galleries worldwide including the United Nations, Museum of the Army at Les Invalides in Paris, the Portland Museum of Art and the Royal Ontario Museum.  He is a dedicated teacher and is noted for his ongoing series of lectures and workshops and a frequent trainer with World Press Photo.

Currently, Don is working on his next project, The Impossible City, which explores the city inundated by its technological future.  He is a member of the acclaimed VII photo agency.

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