Chernobyl 25 Years Revisited – Chapter 4 Disaster Porn

Disaster Porn in Pripyat

Room with a View in Pripyat - Jan Smith 2011

Stalker and Call of Duty in Pripyat and Chernobyl

I saw first hand, and later heard my guide laugh at how many people actually ask if there are mutant monsters running around Pripyat. Perhaps this is due to the influence of games like Call of Duty and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. that take place in Pripyat and Chernobyl.  I also noticed that most of the visual work since the accident  is tainted by making the desolation and evacuation of the city seem like the result of a nuclear bomb rather than a nuclear accident. In any form, radiation is invisible and deadly, but it does not blow-out windows and destroy buildings.  The broken floors and crumbling walls are mainly the scars inflicted by a massive clean-up operation, but not of the accident itself or of the ensuing evacuation.

The evacuation per-se, although painfully delayed by Soviet commanders for 36 hours, was a relatively calm event. Over 800 buses, 300 cars, and two trains were sent up from Kiev. Over loud speakers, and on the radio, residents were told to pack one bag because they would be gone for only three days.  Over 30,000 people were evacuated in three hours.  A few days later another 100,000 were evacuated from the surrounding towns and villages. (You can see a video of Pripyat before and during the evacuation here.)

Gas Masks as Props

Gas Masks, Tim Suess

Common examples of images that portray the wrong face of the tragedy are the many on-line photographs that show literally hundreds of gas masks. Gas masks are ubiquitous rubble in many buildings; on the floor, in corners, on old furniture.   I must clarify something here: Gas masks were not used during the nuclear accident!  Masks have limited effect in protecting against radiation. Instead, they belonged to stockpiles for civilian use in case of a chemical or biological attack. Later, looters entered Pripyat and removed the silver inside the masks’ filters to then sell on the black-market. Using the masks as props to underline the tragedy is misleading and uses drama at the expense of truth.Another example is the

Example of Gas Mask Disaster Porn, Chernobyl

deliberate re-arranging of artifacts as photography props. Empty t.v. sets and chairs are set-up in dramatic poses in the most unlikely places.  Dolls or shoes are repositioned as macabre props.  In the operating room of the hospital,  I found old Band-Aids and a urinary pan on the operating table–obvious signs of somebody trying to stage drama. At times this borders on disaster porn.

Pripyat Graffiti

Sometimes the interference is tasteful. A group of street artists painted graffitti on many buildings c.2005.  There are conflicting versions as to whether or not they entered illegally from Belorussia, or were granted permission by the Ukrainian government.   Regardless, all of it is either bitter sweet or slightly comical.

 

 

 

 

Pripyat Graffiti 1, Jan Smith 2011

Pripyat Graffiti 2, Jan Smith 2011

Pripyat Graffiti 3, Jan Smith 2011

Such interventions made me uncomfortable, but helped me focus on developing the first axis to my work.  Before it fell into further day I wanted to create a historical record of the city and its architecture. Pripyat is a bit unique among all the ex-Soviet cities in that it still shows many outward signs of being Soviet.  A standing statue of Lenin, Soviet stars on street plaques, and on buildings;  even the city itself was built to look like a hammer and sickle from the air.  Other cities cleansed themselves of these outward Soviet insignias. Pripyat was was also comparatively affluent, and coveted by young couples and families.  Because of the work at the nuclear plants, salaries were up to five times higher than the Soviet average and infrastructure was generous.  It had five swimming pools, various schools, a dance and cultural center, and many cafes. I wanted to restore some of the lost dignity to the city, and through this, show traces of the elegance it aspired to.

In my next chapter I will explore the city in-depth, but for the moment I am presenting some examples of how the city is overwhelmingly intervened:  Gas masks on pedestals, footballs and basketballs delicately put together on a rotten floor.

Link Chapter OneLink Chapter Two / Link Chapter ThreeLink Chapter Five / Link Chapter Six /

See Pripyat 25 Years Later:  Complete Gallery

COMPLETE GALLERY/GALERIA ONLINE: http://www.smithjan.com/pripyat.html

 

Gas Mask 1st Place, Jan Smith 2011

Basketball put next to Football, Jan Smith 2011

Carefully placed ball, Jan Smith 2011

3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Atomic Bomb Effects | atomic bomb explosion | scientific processes

  2. Good article

    • Thank you. There will be more posts, so be sure to come back and check them out.