2007 - 2012
I spent two years photographing and interviewing people who still live near Chernobyl a generation after the 1986 accident.
My commitment to this project 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 that would have been impossible from afar.
It’s important, I believe, to let people tell their stories in their own words. My project integrates my photos, first-person oral history interviews, in-depth captions (embedded in IPTC data) and old family photos I collected from the Chernobyl families.
For many of the 82 people I interviewed, losing their homes was as traumatic as the accident itself. I heard compelling stories about problems with alcoholism, mental illness, unemployment, medical care, birth defects and corruption. Some overcome these difficulties; others surrender to them.
Throughout my project, I often pondered: if I lived near Chernobyl, would I stay? I wanted to understand why the people I met made the difficult decision to remain in the contaminated zones. To the world, I came to understand, Chernobyl is a place of danger, but for locals, Chernobyl is simply a way of life.
See more photos from this project at www.afterchernobyl.com.