First, I want to thank the commenter Sarah from my post the other day that recommended a link to Elena’s Motorcycle Rides through Chernobyl. I spent several hours looking through her images and reading her story…as well as digging through flickr trying to find more images from other photographers. I ended up discovering some work by Igor Kostin re-posted there, and was particularly engrossed by his images. Horrifying though some of them were, it turns out that he is basically the only official photographer to have taken images of what was happening in Chernobyl during the actual time of the disaster.
This led me to searching for the photography book “Zones of Exclusion: Chernobyl and Pripyat” by Robert Polidori. I became a fan of his photography after having seen some of his images up close and in person at an art show at the Armory in NYC several years back, but really became a true devotee after looking through his “After The Flood” collection about Hurricane Katrina. Anyways I received the book in the mail today, and as I guessed his images were particularly compelling. He has a true gift with a camera, and it was interesting to see the utter desolation left behind in the wake of such a large catastrophe. Not just a home here or there, but entire cities and villages. The immense scale of the area affected is what’s truly staggering. Here are two images from the book.
Showing the deserted city of Pripyat, with large apartment buildings in the foreground.
These disaster pictures of Pripyat reminded me of something more local that I’ve actually witnessed first hand. Riding through rural pennsylvania (ironically on a motorcycle as well), I came upon the coal-mining town of Centralia. There isn’t much left of it any longer except for streets that head to nowhere, one bench at an abandoned bus stop, a graveyard and about 4 houses. You feel as if you’ve stepped into the twilight zone because every visible sign of life has disappeared…and there’s terrible smelling smoke rising from the ground. All of this was caused by an underground fire in the coal mine that was accidentally started back in the late 70’s. Today it’s a ghost town with all it’s inhabitants evacuated and moved on…everything is gone except the mine fire is still burning today all these years later.
Honestly, I’m not trying to be depressing… but images like these really should serve as reminders for us to be stewards of the environment (on a macro level) and of our neighborhood & city (on a micro level). Something that provides energy & jobs for the short term, also has the potential to destroy enormous swathes of land for hundreds of years…not to mention destroy thousands of lives. Litter and broken windows may not be an obvious equivalent, but just the same can slowly erode the quality of life in a neighborhood and help lead to the increase of crime.
Let’s remember to do what we can each day while remaining hopeful for the future…and to aspire to learn from the mistakes of those that came before us.