The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

Shortly after the 1986 accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, 135,000 people were evacuated from an area extending 30 kilometers around the damaged reactor. I first photographed there in 1994 and even though the so-called exclusion zone was closely guarded, I was permitted to travel and photograph freely. I soon realized the subject was large and complex, causing me to return frequently.

The city of Pripyat, where most of these photographs were made, was home to the employees of the nuclear power plant and their families. Known as the Atomic City, Pripyat was considered one of the finest places to live in the former Soviet Union. The first apartments were built in the mid-seventies, when the power plant was still under construction. There were all the amenities of a modern Soviet city, with many schools, stores, hospitals, and recreational and cultural facilities. At the time of the accident, it was home to 45,000 people but it will never be lived in again.

I had never intended to re-photograph these places over time. In some cases, the changes had transformed a location so substantially, I didn't recognize it as a place I had previously photographed. The buildings are crumbling and the vegetation is proliferating. At a certain point, the distinction between indoors and outdoors will be obliterated, returning the city known as Pripyat to a natural landscape with only vestiges of the lives it had once housed.