In my photography, I explore the human consequences of environmental contamination.
In 1986, radioactive fallout contaminated 56,700 square miles of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, a region larger than New York State. 188 nearby towns and villages were evacuated. And yet, a generation later, life continues in these radiation-affected areas. Six million people still reside in the contaminated region.
Since 2007, I’ve photographed those who remain.
My commitment to this work began when I discovered how most photojournalists distort Chernobyl. They visit briefly, expecting danger and despair, and come away with photos of deformed children and abandoned buildings. This sensationalist approach obscures more complex stories about how displaced communities adapt and survive.
In contrast, I sought to create full portraits of these communities. There is suffering, but also joy and beauty. Endurance and hope. Living directly in the villages where I photographed gave me access to events and people with an insider’s perspective impossible from afar.
For many, losing their homes was as traumatic as the accident itself. I heard compelling stories about problems with alcoholism, mental illness, unemployment, medical care, cancer, birth defects and corruption. Some overcome these difficulties; others surrender to them.
How much radiation is safe? No one knows. Insufficient medical research has been done to determine the health effects of long-term radiation exposure. In the absence of facts, people believe rumors, propaganda, and their own first-hand experiences.
Why do people stay? A lack of alternatives. A sense of duty. Deep ties to the land. Decent jobs. Because this is home.
The closer you are to Chernobyl, the less dangerous it seems. Instead of radiation, Chernobylites today have new fears. They worry about their future. Keeping their jobs. Opportunities for their children. Maintaining their hometowns.
If you lived here, would you stay?
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Learn more about the project: www.afterchernobyl.com
I plan to leave soon to begin a new parallel project about the people of Fukushima, Japan. If I receive a Fotovisura grant, the money will go directly into my new After Fukushima project.