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July 21, 2016 1:08 PM   Subscribe

The twitter account Soviet Visuals is on vacation in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Zone of Alienation aka the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. You can follow along on Twitter (where they are semi-consistently using the #LiveFromChernobyl tag) or Facebook. And don't worry: "the radiation exposure inside the approved itinerary @ exclusion zone is equal to roughly 1hr of transatlantic flight [...] and this is over 1 whole day of being in the zone."
posted by griphus (21 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Puppies!
posted by sparklemotion at 2:06 PM on July 21, 2016


So "vacation" appears to be one of those words that doesn't translate well...
posted by Etrigan at 2:19 PM on July 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Self link, but last night I finished sorting my photos from my trip there. Got them here if anyone's interested.
posted by MattWPBS at 2:33 PM on July 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


These are amazing, thank you!
posted by Lyn Never at 2:35 PM on July 21, 2016


I've been wondering: Any good Pokemon in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, or the Korean Demilitarized Zone? One assumes there's limited competition and any Pokestops are yours to establish gyms on.
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:48 PM on July 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


There's a fair few Ingress portals, so I'd expect there's a similar number of Pokestops/gyms.
posted by MattWPBS at 2:49 PM on July 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


The dog pictures made me so sad, but the pictures in general are pretty impressive. Thanks!
posted by ChuraChura at 2:51 PM on July 21, 2016


Does any one study those dogs to see how radiation affects them? They've must have been around people, since the seem fairly close to the people taking photos...
posted by BooneTheCowboyToy at 3:30 PM on July 21, 2016


My first thought was why risk the radiation but I quickly moved on to being amazed that on google maps there is street level views at the reactor. Hopefully they sent one of their self-driving car instead of sending some poor chap to do laps around the worst nuclear reactor accident that won't be safe for human habitation for 20,000 years.
posted by dios at 4:04 PM on July 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Watch out for the dogs!!!
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 4:10 PM on July 21, 2016


Those radar antennas are beautiful.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 4:58 PM on July 21, 2016


Any good Pokemon in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

Hideously deformed Pokemon with a radiation attack but they live 1/2 as long. Wonder if that'd catch on.
posted by Zack_Replica at 4:59 PM on July 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yeah, as I understand it the Exclusion Zone is uninhabitable not so much in the short term, but in the long term. It'd be a really bad place to live for years and grow food, but short guided trips are absolutely fine. There are gov't employees and construction workers who actually live quite near the reactor itself, on a temporary basis, and work there daily. There's also the Samosely, people who didn't evacuate and still live full time in the Zone. Most of them have been there for 30 years.

The real radiation danger, in terms of immediate health effects, is actually much scarier than just general radiation everywhere. Most of the heavily irradiated trees, debris, machinery and such were taken out away from towns and buried, or left in massive vehicle graveyards. The issue with this is that they didn't really keep good track of where they buried stuff, or what is buried where. This means there are small hotspots, especially where they buried trees, as wood holds radiation very well. These unmarked hotspots can give you a lethal dose in minutes, and you'll be very very sick even if you're only there for seconds.

So long as you stay in the areas known to be safe, it's really not a dangerous place at all, not like you'd think.


I'd also like to post the usual disclaimer about how commonplace staging disaster porn photographs is in Chernobyl. The doll with the gas mask is a good example. I've seen that one from different angles before. I'm not necessarily saying the photographer in question here staged anything, but there are still many scenes set up by previous photographers looking for the perfectly poignant shot, and those naturally draw the eyes of those that follow. It's a ghoulish thing to take the possessions of people forced to abandon their lives and set them up just right to capture a better looking sense of loss. It denigrates their actual sense of loss, and it demeans their actual physical loss by saying it wasn't pretty enough before.
posted by neonrev at 5:28 PM on July 21, 2016 [17 favorites]


Get out of here, Stalker Poketrainer!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:15 PM on July 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


I'd also like to post the usual disclaimer about how commonplace staging disaster porn photographs is in Chernobyl. The doll with the gas mask is a good example. I've seen that one from different angles before. I'm not necessarily saying the photographer in question here staged anything, but there are still many scenes set up by previous photographers looking for the perfectly poignant shot, and those naturally draw the eyes of those that follow. It's a ghoulish thing to take the possessions of people forced to abandon their lives and set them up just right to capture a better looking sense of loss. It denigrates their actual sense of loss, and it demeans their actual physical loss by saying it wasn't pretty enough before.

Yeah, we were having a debate about this within our tour group (went with Chernobyl Tour). There were six of us on it (three unconnected pairs of friends), and we'd all essentially wanted to go to see what happened when you remove people from a built up area. Either for personal interest from remembering the news/impact from it as a child in Northern Europe, or just from an environmental/historic interest in general. Two different things which we found bad about the staging.

Main one is exactly what you said about the staging of loss/decay. You have a location where people have been evacuated, where the authentic effect and sense of loss are what is there, and someone decides that it doesn't match what they think it should be and re-work it to what their pre-conceptions are. It feels like asking a widow to cry a bit more, rather than looking stoic or something. It's an odd impulse.

Personally, I don't like things being posed in documentary photography. If you're looking to capture what's there, where do do you stop? Do you move something out of the way because you don't like the composition, slightly move an object into shot because you want to capture it in frame in a certain way with another object, break something off that's hanging on by a thread because it was going to go at some point anyway, bring something with you because you think it would be more interesting if you had found it there, maybe knock a cracked window out because you can get a good shot through it if it had actually smashed, etc, etc. I used to be into Urban Exploration more when I was younger (and before the Victorian asylums in the UK got mainly redeveloped), and the phrase used was always "take only photos, leave only footprints". If you're presenting photos as a record of what's there, you're lying if you create things that aren't. I think opening a book or something is fine, but piling up the gasmasks wouldn't be.

That's where it gets a bit mixed for me. I want to capture what's there, so what do you do with the already staged areas? Do you avoid taking photos of things like the bunny in a chamber pot, doll in the gas mask, or whatever? That is what's there now, but it's obviously not what was originally there after the accident clear up.
posted by MattWPBS at 3:33 AM on July 22, 2016


If you guys want to see how good the pokemans are in these areas, why not just set your GPSes to fake out those locations and try it?
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 5:32 AM on July 22, 2016


That's where it gets a bit mixed for me. I want to capture what's there, so what do you do with the already staged areas? Do you avoid taking photos of things like the bunny in a chamber pot, doll in the gas mask, or whatever? That is what's there now, but it's obviously not what was originally there after the accident clear up.

I really do think this is a question without a real solid answer, but I do have a lot of thoughts about it. I can't form a coherent thread though. I'm pretty sick today.
There are things that are obviously staged, like the doll with a gas mask on, which I do think people should avoid taking photos of without providing context to later viewers. It's not documentary of anything other than the scenes of strange abandonment combined with artistic manipulation that happens there, but talking about that and how people struggle to make the reality of the unorganized, decaying ruins of people's lives match our imagination of what loss and abandonment should and would look like.

Pripyat and the zone of exclusion are an unusual case for a photographer. There are usually two main kinds of legal historical or abandoned sites (urban exploration is its own thing and relies on the ethics of the individual I think.), and they mostly fall into two categories:
Things like castles, old palaces, forts and historical lodgings are obviously maintained and intended for a pleasurable visit for visitors by the people who maintain them, but they are also usually run by people with at least a mild interest in historical accuracy. You can shoot them knowing that what you see is a pretty decent reflection of things past, but also that they are definitely not real and that people have not changed things to suit their individual desires. There is no illusion that someone left a dress over a chair in 1850 and it's been there since. Things like ancient sites are a little different, where they try not to restore them as much, but it's also way more obvious that they are ruins and the remnants of things past. In both these cases there are workers there to set things back to 'right', or at least a researched version of right.

This is not the case for Pripyat. As I understand, and correct me if I'm wrong, the tours are pretty heavily guided and go along set paths which are shared between a number of different tour companies of varying ethics. So you're mostly seeing the places that the most visitors have gone, and that people have felt free to manipulate, without an effort to return things to their previous state. It's odd to visit a human historical site that is so heavily modified by visitors. Many of these modifications are likely unknowable. There's no hard record as to what the insides of someone's apartment looked like in 1986. It's impossible to photograph it honestly without accepting that it's Pripyat as we have made it. The lie of most historical sites doesn't exist there, it can't. I don't know of any other modern sites like it.

It's like a grey area to the extreme I guess. It's a weird place to consider from a historical perspective. We don't normally keep major disaster areas in situ for long, so I don't think there's a precedent for how wee treat it. I think you have the right of it though.
(I've thrown up once in the composing of this comment. This fact is coincidental, but info one rarely knows.)
posted by neonrev at 8:59 AM on July 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


(There was a recent metatalk post about how mefi deals with non-american topics, and this thread is a shining example of people coming in to make jokes about something horrible, jokes they would no be making if this was something that happened in the US. I'm not trying to shame anybody or anything, (I actually find the idea of weirdo monsters digitally roaming pripyat amusing too) but if this were a nuclear disaster in the US I doubt it would be 1/3 talking about pokemon go in a city people had to abandon. It's not like, openly offensive to me or anything, but it is a weird and bad tone to set for a thread about such a horrible event.)
posted by neonrev at 9:00 AM on July 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Maybe this is better for the Meta but I see no reason to believe that there wouldn't have been talk about Pokestops in Centralia, PA if Pokemon Go had existed at the time of our last FPP about it.

I think it might be different if this was the first ever FPP about Pripyat, or even a sober discussion about the 30th anniversary. But it's not, it's a story of yet another photojournalist going to a place that has in many ways become a tourist destination.

I think that in the context of disaster tourism, which really, this FPP is about, it's reasonable to speculate about the sorts of things that tourists like to do. Right now, that includes Pokemon Go.
posted by sparklemotion at 9:30 AM on July 22, 2016


I recently finished reading Nobel Laureate Svetlana Alexievich's Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, which I highly recommend. Some of the firsthand accounts in the book touch on this discussion of what is real vs. staged in photography and film.

Chernobyl Museum Director, on photography and filming at the time of the disaster:
No, they wouldn't let anyone film that, it was forbidden. If anyone did manage to record any of it, the authorities immediately took the film and returned it ruined. They didn't allow anyone to film the tragedy, only the heroics. There are some Chernobyl photo albums now, but how many video and photo cameras were broken!
Any filming and photography very close to the reactor failed anyway, since the radiation penetrated the camera and destroyed the film. Those who were allowed to shoot either had orders, or simply understood what they should and shouldn't be showing:
What do I film? Nothing's blowing up. … My first shoot was in an agricultural club. They put a television on the stage and gathered everyone together. They listened to Gorbachev-everything's fine, everything's under control. … After the shoot the livestock specialist calls me over to a giant pit, where they're burying the cows with a bulldozer. But it didn't even occur to me to shoot that. I turned my back on the pit and shot the scene in the great tradition of our patriotic documentaries: the bulldozer drivers are reading Pravda, the headline in huge block letters : "The nation will not abandon those in trouble!"
Staging scenes in the Zone was happening almost immediately:
One time we got a special order: immediately wash this one house in an empty village. Incredible! "What for?" 'They're filming a wedding there tomorrow." So we got some hoses and doused the roof, trees, scraped off the ground. We mowed down the potato patch, the whole garden, all the grass in the yard. All around, emptiness. The next day they bring the bride and groom, and a busload of guests. They had music. And they were a real bride and groom, they weren't actors — they'd already been evacuated, they were living in another place, but someone convinced them to come back and film the wedding here, for history. Our propaganda in motion. A whole factory of daydreams.
The fetishization of the abandoned didn't take long to start either:
Newspaper crews came to us, took photos. They'd have these invented scenes: they'd want to photograph the window of an abandoned house, and they'd put a violin in front of it; then they'd call the photo, "Chernobyl Symphony." But you didn't have to make anything up there. You wanted to just remember it: the globe in the schoolyard crushed by a tractor; laundry that's been hanging out on the balcony for a year and has turned black; abandoned military graves, the grass as tall as the soldier statue on it, and on the automatic weapon of the statue, a bird's nest. The door of a house has been broken down, everything has been looted, but the curtains are still pulled back. People have left, but their photographs are still in the houses, like their souls.
There was also an account from a local who was taking an English photojournalist around. He had hoped to photograph some fantastical graveyards of radioactive materials, vehicles, and structures, having been promised more money from his editors for something so dramatic. But these disposal dumps had largely disappeared, much of the scrapped material having been carted off and resold or reused by the locals. And finally, photographer Viktor Latun is quoted: "People ask me : 'Why don't you take photos in color? In color!' But Chernobyl literally it means black event. There are no other colors there."

posted by Kabanos at 9:40 AM on August 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Stumbled across this Chernobyl exhibit (lots of photos) on the Odessa Regional History Museum site.
posted by Kabanos at 10:08 AM on August 18, 2016


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