The global award in photography and sustainability

Rena Effendi

Still Life in the Zone

Twenty-six years after the disaster, the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear accident are both visible like scars and invisible like air. While access to the area surrounding Reactor #4 is restricted with barbed wire and police checkpoints, more than 200 people – mostly elderly women – inhabit the 30 km area around it, now called the Zone of Alienation. These women survived the famine of Stalin’s blockade and Nazi occupation in WWII, and only days after the worst nuclear accident in the world’s history, they chose to return home. “A pigeon flies close to its nest! Those who left are dying of sadness…”, explains Maria Vitosh, one of the survivors.

Focusing on still life images – victuals, household items, relics of the disaster – I use the prism of nature morte to portray both the long-term effects of this nuclear catastrophe, and the power and persistence of the human spirit in the face of devastation. I’m also fascinated by the earth’s ability to teem with life, not long after annihilation. The death infused lives of the Chernobyl women, as seen through objects from their daily life, personify the promise and paradox of power – in reference to the dangers of nuclear energy and the awesome human will to survive. The story of Chernobyl turns Nietzsche’s dictum on its head – that which makes us stronger can also kill us.

Rena Effendi