With the holidays here, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook will soon be overflowing with pictures of outfits, feasts, presents, and an over abundance of material goods. I found this a perfect time to stop and reflect on how blessed we are, and how sometimes the most important things in life cannot be bought. This holiday season I hope we all overlook the stuffing that may be on the slight mushy side, the annoying relative with way too strong of opinions, and the sweater Grandma bought us that we would not have even worn ten years ago. Because life could be worse, much worse.
Take a look at Robert Knoth’s photo essay “Nuclear Nightmares” – http://www.pixelpress.org/chernobyl/screen2.html
In the year 1949, the Soviet Union detonated their first nuclear bomb and the effects were catastrophic. This photo essay revisits the site 20 years later, exposing the medical, social, and economic effects of the Chernobyl nuclear explosion. The explosion will not only affect the generations shown in these pictures, but Doctors estimate that it will affect 200 generations to come.
This photograph of 7 month old Ayauszhay was taken two days before she passed away.
According to the essay, Ayauszhay was “abandoned in a hospital by her parents”. She was suffering from hydrocephalus, a condition where the brain collects excessive amounts of fluid. This picture, by focusing on her head, forces the reader to examine the infants abnormal head size and shape and the growth on it, therefore making us come to the conclusion that this is not just any child by she is very ill.
This photo is of Alexandra,age 9 with her father.
Alexandra suffers from the same condition, hydrocephalus, that Ayauszhay died from. She only sits up to eat, and her father is the only one strong enough to be able to hold her for this. This photograph shows the distress that the father is in, but also the determination he has to stay by his daughter’s side.
This is 33 year old Ardak.
Ardak’s body is shrinking due to a rare bone disease. His doctors do not know what is happening or how to fix it. The viewer can see his ribs and the fact that his body is much smaller than his face, and even his hands. He is propped up because he obviously is having trouble moving on his own.
The following photo is one of few included in this essay that does not include living human beings.
Instead it shows the remnants of what they left behind. Dolls and toys trains are broken, but most of this pile is unidentifiable rumble. This just shows that even when the people who lived in this place had been evacuated, their belongings stayed behind. Over 300,000 people were permently evacuated from Chernobyl, leaving behind things that had once been so important to them and brought them so much joy. 20 years later they are on the ground, shattered, broken and forgotten.
All of the pictures in this essay were in black and white. I believe the purpose of not using color was so that the viewer was only looking at the subject, and was not distracted by anything else. The black and white shows the subjects in a raw state, and allows us to see the pain in the photographs even clearer. I believe this is also why the main subjects of the photographs are in the plainest backgrounds possible. The subject is centered, and takes up most of the picture,without having much around them. This is to get rid of any distractions in the background that would take away from the subject.
ABC News’s segment “Chernobyl Disaster Effects: Revisiting the Nuclear Accident Site 20 Years Later” inserted below, has the same purpose as Knoth’s photo essay “Nuclear Nightmares”. Both aim to show the effects of the Chernobyl explosion 20 years later. They both introduce people effected, state statistics, and try to inform and warn the public just how dangerous nuclear energies are.
However, after watching the video it was not the similarities with the photo essay that popped into my head first, but the differences. After reading “Nuclear Nightmares”, there were tears in my eyes. I thought about it the following days, and the images were burned into my memory. With the ABC News video, none of my emotions were stirred up. I wasn’t close to tears, and I did not feel any attachment towards the people in the video.
By showing Chernobyl through these honest black and white photographs with clear subjects, my heart broke for the people affected by the event. I stared at each picture for minutes just thinking about what each person had been through, and what the rest of their life would be like. Photographs have a way to access feelings and emotions in an indescribable way. In this situation the photographs were much more effective than even live footage, and interviews.