View Johan`s report

Ede and Ravenscroft Prize 2012
Johan Keely
History of Chernobyl:
In 1986, an explosion took place in one of the reactors of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. This was due to
a failed experiment which was trying to test the inertial range of the generator. Unfortunately the automatic
safety system did not start up in time, with the first explosion occurring as little as two seconds before this
system would have been active, stopping the critical overheating.
This was coupled with the fact that the nuclear reactor was still active, rather than being shut down before
such an experiment, due to the upcoming May 1st celebrations which would have needed all the power
Thankfully however, both the explosions which occurred were ordinary thermal explosions rather than
nuclear, which meant that the blast radius was fairly local. However the damaged reactor was still burning,
allowing radiation to leak into the atmosphere. Fire fighters tried to extinguish the blaze, but not knowing
what they were dealing with, poured water onto the reactor, causing a number smaller explosions and an
increased level of radiation leakage.
As well as causing the death of the fire fighters and rescue workers, the radiation meant that the nearby city
of Pripyat had to be evacuated. Pripyatmainly consisted of workers from the power plant and their families
when the evacuation occurred. Residents were told to only take with them essentials and led to believe that
they would return once the reactor was fixed. However this was not the case and the city has been derelict
ever since. It is this desolation which interested me, as it related to my project at the time, which was
photographing abandoned buildings.
Pripyat and Chernobyl:
Upon arrival in Chernobyl, after passing through the checkpoints, I was surprised to learn that there are in
fact still residents who work at the power plant and surrounding areas, living in Chernobyl for a few weeks
and then returning home. It was strange to see people living here, especially as many of the buildings in the
surrounding area are damaged or falling down.
During the two day trip, we were taken to Pripyat twice, which gave me the opportunity to take the majority
of my photographs, as it held the most significance towards my work.
As soon as I entered the city it was apparent how much nature had taken over, disguising what used to be
roads, taking over buildings and making many areas unrecognisable from before the disaster. It was
extraordinary to see how quickly nature had reclaimed the city and changed the landscape.
It was however, the interiors of the buildings which offered the best chances for photographs, whether they
contained possessions or had been stripped bare by looters, each building had its own unique feeling.
Although it was made illegal to enter any of the buildings earlier this year, we were given multiple
opportunities to enter, as long as we were quick and didn't make lots of noise.
I don't feel that any amount of reading and research could have prepared me for some of the places I entered,
especially the schools which were littered with gas masks, left over from when the Cold War was a threat.
As well as the gas masks, the I found the schools contained a lot of visually interesting areas, such as old
gyms, in which the floors have lost their structural integrity, warping and breaking, as well as old toys and
dolls which had been left scattered around each building. When photographing objects which had been left
behind, especially the dolls, I was often questioning if they had in fact been left in the positions I found them,
as often they seemed to be ideally placed for photographic purposes. I found this an interesting thought,
which led to myself often studying the rest of the group, to see how they would act in each location. What I
found was that some of the group was treating the experience as more of a holiday which seemed to
undermine the seriousness of what had occurred. This was especially evident upon visiting the reactor at
which point many of the group had each other take photographs while they took it in turns to stand in the
photograph, with the reactor behind them.
The chance to visit Chernobyl and Pripyat is one that I have been hoping for over many years, which I believe
is one of the reasons this trip will always be unforgettable. It offered me the chance to visit locations and
photograph places, which when combined with the knowledge of the events which occurred, gave me an
experience which I believe cannot be replicated. The photographs included in this report are only a small
section of the (roughly) 800 photos I took over the two days, utilising three different cameras and over £70 of
film in order to capture the experience as best I could. I have included some of the better photos below to try
and offer a small insight into my experience. In regards to my project,I feel that any attempts to create new
photographic work based upon Chernobyl, wouldn't be able to compare to the images I was able to obtain
whilst there, based not only on the unique visual qualities each building holds but also the experience is not
something I would be able to replicate.
Finally I would like to thank both Ede and Ravenscroft, as well as the university for giving me this