The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is a 30 km area surrounding the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The estimated levels of radiation there are really high and living there is not safe for any living being. But still, there are three categories of people who do go into that zone. Some of them are workers, who risk their lives to construct a new sarcophagus to isolate the melted core of the reactor. Their work has been documented by Gerd Ludwig in his long term project about Chernobyl. In the second category are the people who couldn’t say goodbye to their homes, and I previously wrote about Diana Markosian’s bittersweet story of Lida and Mikhail, a couple who chose not to abandon their village, if though they were advised to do so. And the last category is the one documented by Donald Weber, in his Stalker photo series. This category is made of people who transgress the border of the forbidden area and enter Pripyat, the abandoned Chernobyl city to strip it of its remaining valuables.
The photos capture the grim atmosphere of the place. The photographer saw a parallelism here between these people and their marginal life, and Tarkovsky’s film Stalker, which, according to what Weber says, anticipated the nuclear catastrophe.
What I find most interesting is that I know there is a certain human fascination with disasters, and there is a certain fascination with decaying urban spaces. And the Chernobyl disaster is an ‘iconic’ combination of the two, resulting in different photos and accounts and even a very bad Hollywood film. I find interesting, for example, the fascination with the ‘fun park’ in Pripyat, that was supposed to be opened on the 29th of april 1986, three days after the disaster and the evacuation of the city. I think everyone looks at that fun park, every photographer goes there (even Weber has a photo there), and it is even on some lists of scariest places in this world. And yet, it’s not even a park but just a small entertainment area for kids. And beyond the voyeuristic need to see images of such a place, which incites our imagination in a way that is heavily influenced by horror cinema, there are some important stories to tell about the lives of people living in that area. Some real stories. And Donald Weber’s Stalker is one of them.
See the video at the end.