Blog posts


Exhibits + Events Archive 2008 - 2009

This is a list of Michael's past Chernobyl photography events.

  • Dec. 2-13, 2009: ХОТИМ, ЧТОБЫ ПОМНИЛИ (Wanting Remembrance), Gallery Creativity, Moscow. See details.
  • Sept 3-Oct 30, 2009: After Chernobyl exhibit, Madison Municipal Bldg. Artspace, Madison, WI. See details.
  • June 5-July 3, 2009: Inside Chernobyl exhibit, Slavutych Museum, Ukraine.
  • June 5, 2009 at 7 p.m. Inside Chernobyl exhibit opening.
  • April 24-May 8, 2009: Inside Chernobyl exhibit, Shevchenko Park, Kyiv, Ukraine.
  • April 24, 2009 at 3 p.m. Inside Chernobyl exhibit opening.
  • Dec. 21, 2008. Chernobyl Today: talk and slideshow, 1420 Hill St., Ann Arbor, MI.
  • Dec. 11, 2008. Chernobyl Liquidators: slideshow, Centre Dovira, Ivankiv, Ukraine.
  • October 30, 2008. Benefit event. Oakwood West, Madison, WI. See details.
  • July-August, 2008. After Chernobyl exhibit. UW Health Sciences Learning Center, Madison, WI. See details.
  • June-July, 2008. After Chernobyl exhibit. Bethel Fireside Gallery, Madison, WI. Reception June 22. See details.
  • June 27, 2008. Chernobyl Town Meeting. See details.


all night long

Sex sells.

A prostitute in the red light district of Amsterdam negotiates with a group of three young men over the price of her services.
Amsterdam is a bizarre place. I was flying from Kiev to Detroit when they shut down the airport because of fog. I was stuck in the Netherlands overnight. So I took my camera and wandered around the red light district most of the night.

I especially liked the glow-in-the-dark underwear. But is very odd the way "normal" stores, (a bar, a shwarma stand, a tourist souvenir shop) stand cheek-to-bowel with the women of the night behind their big windows.

Got yelled at by a drug dealer for taking photos of him, and challenged by a pimp for taking photos of his girls. After that, I put my camera inside my coat, lens barely sticking out between two buttons, and shot this way.

Glad my body is not for sale. (And really, who would buy, anyway?)


Orphanage in Vovchkiv

Nina Rudenko, director of the orphanage in Vovchkiv village, near Chernobyl, oversees the distribution of clothes from a Spanish charity.



Students at the Perspective English school in Slavutich gossip while they look up words in a dictionary.

Today I like this picture but yesterday I hated it.


Ukrainian church, Novo Ladizhichi

An elderly woman prays during a service at the small Ukrainian church in Novo Ladizhichi village. "New Ladizhichi" was built in 1987 to house evacuees from the original village of Ladizhichi following the 1986 Chernobyl accident. The church has been under construction for a full decade, as villagers have had trouble raising enough money to continue building. Because the church is unfinished, it is decorated with temporary posters rather than paintings.

Sometimes the best photos are hiding in the corners. I was photographing this service when I got intrigued by the shadows. I have started a series of Chernobyl photos in which people appear only indirectly. This fits.


man, those girls could dance!

Teenage girls from villages near Chernobyl come to the community center in Borodyanka for dance lessons.
I've been too busy shooting and too far from the internet to post much lately, but in the coming weeks I'll start sharing some recent work from my months living in Sukachi village, near Chernobyl.

Full caption: Dance and music teacher Lesya Kostenko (left) leads a dance rehearsal at the Chernobyl Community Center in Borodyanka, Ukraine. Her students, including Ira Dovstenka (in white), and Olya Shvitka (in black) are all 14-year-old girls from the village Nove Zalissya, 7 kilometers away. Borodyanka is a small town (population 16,000) where many Chernobyl evacuees were resettled in 1986, 30 miles west of Kyiv and 30 miles south of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.


Sukachi liquor store

In a liquor and food store converted from an old trailer in Sukachi village, Ukraine, employees restock shelves in the evening, as seen through the trailer windows.

I've been on a shooting-through-windows kick recently. Partly I've been playing with layering, and partly it gets dark so damn early now (sunset about 3:45 pm) that much of my street photography has been in the night.

Or maybe it says something deep about my feelings of being an outsider, peering in from the outside.


Centre Dovira

If you read Ukrainian, you can read a nice little blurb about my After Chernobyl project on the homepage of the Centre Dovira in Ivankiv, Ukraine:

If you, like me, don't read Ukrainian, here it is in translation.



Hope, 2008.

I am feeling a lot of hope for the future this past week. Since I'm currently free from the constraints of shooting news stories, I've been pushing myself to make some more metaphorical images. Photos that capture an idea rather than a literal truth. So I went looking for some photos to express my newfound optimism.

I seldom bother to shoot from a moving vehicle. The rate of success is too low to make it feel worthwhile. On this morning, however, the fog was so dense and mysterious that I was coaxed into pulling out my camera. When we stopped beside a dirt road in the middle of nowhere I was ready.

What, you want a real caption? Okay, fine: A passenger disembarks from a bus on the road from Kyiv to Slavutich, Ukraine, as seen out the bus window on a foggy fall morning.



Slavutich is the new city built in Ukraine after the Chernobyl accident to house evacuees from the abandoned Exclusion Zone. Today nearly 4,000 of the 25,000 inhabitants still work at Chernobyl, commuting on 3 special electric trains that depart early each morning and get home after dark. In the evening, the workers walk home from the train station past the main supermarket in town.


benefit show tomorrow

For those of you in Wisconsin who missed my show last summer, you have another chance, tomorrow starting at 7 p.m. I'm supporting a benefit for FOCCUS (Friends of Chernobyl Centers, US), and my photos will be on display and on sale.

Thursday October 30, 2008
7:00 - 9:00 p.m.

Oakwood Village West, in the Village Inn
6205 Mineral Point Road - Madison, Wisconsin

There is a cover charge, but if you want to go as my guest, send me an email.

The evening will also include a short film about Chernobyl by Irene Zabytko and some Ukrainian musicians. More details about FOCCUS here.


earthquake in Kyrgyzstan

In light of yesterday's earthquake in Kyrgyzstan, I thought I'd post a photo from the region.

An earthquake in the Tien Shan mountains of southern Kyrgyzstan leveled the village of Nura and killed at least 70 residents on October 5, 2008. In this file photo from nearby, Kyrgyz horsemen herd cattle in a remote valley below 9,400-foot Kyzyl-Bel pass, along the road linking Naryn to the Chinese border at Torugart pass.

It's really a remarkably remote region. I'm not surprised they've had a hard time getting in and getting the injured out.


Ben and Abha's wedding

Their big fat Gujarati wedding.

I don't shoot a lot of weddings, but I always enjoy it when I do. Abha Thakkar and Ben Schumaker were married at Paradise Park, a lovely wooded site in Cottage Grove, Wis., with a massive crowd of friends and family in attendance.


1,000 travelers

Mike Osborn, traveling from Charleston, SC, to Denver, had just met Soni Haag, traveling from Orlando to Milwaukee, at a bar in the O'Hare airport.

I recently returned from a trip to NYC to meet with photo editors and book publishers. On my way home I started playing with a project I've often imagined but never had time to pursue.

I want to photograph 1,000 travelers. Eventually. Not sure where the project will end up, but it makes for an interesting self-assignment while I'm sitting in airports.

This need not be a solo project. If other photographers want to join me, let me know.

Name: Dan (surname withheld)
Origin: Budapest, Hungary
Destination: Denver, Colorado
Dan was calling his wife just after getting off his international flight.

Name: (names withheld)
Origin: Washington, DC (Dulles)
Destination: Kalamazoo, Michigan

Name: Stuffed Monkey and Ken Soliva
Origin: Zurich, Switzerland
Destination: Madison, Wisconsin

Name: Fred Deiter
Origin: Phoenix, Arizona
Destination: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Name: Thomas Hall
Origin: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Destination: Billings, Montana

Name: Catalina (surname withheld)
Origin: Rome, Italy
Destination: San Antonio, Texas
Thomas and Catalina had not met until I took their picture.

Name: Machaela Brassell and Travis Whitlow
Origin: Brussels, Belgium
Destination: Nashville, Tennessee
Machaela and Travis were returning from a 3 week People to People exchange program.

Name: 1-year-old girl and her father (names withheld)
Origin: Richmond, Virginia
Destination: Austin, Texas

Name: Chris Ly and his son Full Ly, age 11
Origin: Saigon, Vietnam
Destination: Fort Wayne, Indiana
Chris and his two sons had been traveling for 22 hours and had missed their last connecting flight.

Name: Nicole Skovgard
Origin: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Destination: Columbus, Ohio


burying the lede

I've been accused of burying the big news in my last post. It is true. I failed to broadly announce my news. So here it is:

I am happy to have received a Fulbright fellowship. I will spend 10 months in Ukraine, photographing around Chernobyl and interviewing Chernobyl survivors. We will leave Madison in late August and I'll be in Kyiv starting mid-September.

You can read more about my After the Nukes project here and see photos from last year here.

seeing the wide wide (very wide) world

360 degree panorama of a waterfront house on Lake Koshkonong.
360 degree panorama of a dining room and kitchen in Madison.

Lately I've been shooting some architectural panoramas such as these. These photos are made from 12 separate wide-angle photos pieced together. I've been shooting panos for a long time, but I've always done them freehand. The images were so laborious to stitch together in Photoshop that I shot more of them than I ever finished. This year I bought a pano head for my tripod from Kaidan including their very cool QuickTilt Leveler, and software which makes the stitching very easy. Look for more panos coming soon.

You can see a virtual tour of the above houses here and here.

These real estate jobs don't pay much but it's good experience -- I plan to shoot a lot more of this type of panorama when I go back to Chernobyl in the fall.



Danielle Berman and Mike Horgan are expecting their first baby in a couple of weeks.
I am totally honored when people invite me into their homes to witness and document a piece of their lives. Sharing this intimacy and trying to capture it visually is one of my favorite parts of being a photographer.

But of course, as a father who watched one pregnancy progress, I can say that I'd be in no rush to spend all day walking around carrying a big old bowling ball in my belly.


After Chernobyl: exhibit and events

Photo Exhibit
June 12 to July 8, 2008
Fireside Gallery, Bethel Lutheran Church
312 Wisconsin Avenue, Madison

Opening Reception
June 22, 10 am to 12 pm
Fireside Gallery, Bethel Lutheran Church
312 Wisconsin Avenue, Madison
Meet the photographer and visiting Ukrainian delegation.

Chernobyl Town Meeting
June 27, 7:30 pm
UW Lowell Hall, 610 Langdon Street
Hear from a panel of Ukrainian experts
working in the contaminated zones.

Photo Exhibit
July 9 to August 6, 2008
UW Health Sciences Learning Center atrium
750 Highland Avenue, Madison

Exhibit Sponsors
FOCCUS, Open World Program,
Madison Arts Commission, CREECA

See more Chernobyl photos.
Read more about the project.


Leap of faith

To celebrate the end of the semester in early May, UW-Madison students living in the Lakeshore dorms jump in the chilly waters of Lake Mendota.

And eight seconds later...

they come running for their towels.

(Client: UW Division of Housing)


one man's museum

(that old collage try)

Zebra Dog Studios creates “miniature museums” and other three-dimensional exhibits that blend branding, marketing and history. Founder Mark Schmitz, Zebra Dog's top dog, stands in his office in downtown Madison, which is like a one-man museum filled with decades of graphic design materials he’s collected.
When I was doing this portrait of Mark Schmitz, I knew I wanted the photo to be about his office as much as him. This man's passion is taking small personal histories and reproducing them large. His office speaks volumes about his own history.

I've loved doing photocollages ever since I was introduced to David Hockney's work. But they are so labor-intensive to assemble that I've shot many more than I've ever had time to finish. I recently bought a pan head for my tripod and some specialized stitching software, so maybe you'll see more of them soon.

I shot this for today's Wisconsin State Journal story.


Good news can't wait

Don't congratulate me yet, because nothing is definite. But I can't keep my big fingers off the keyboard. I want to share this tentative good news:

Last night, the Madison Arts Commission approved an arts grant for me and FOCCUS. We applied for funding to do a show of my Chernobyl photos this summer. The exhibit will run June-July at the UW Health Sciences Learning Center and July-August at Bethel Lutheran Church.

However, the city council has to approve all the grants before they are definite.

In other news, I have been notified that I am a finalist for a Fulbright fellowship. If I get it, the Fulbright will fund me to go back to Chernobyl for a year, to continue my After the Nukes documentary project.

I expect to have final notice about both grants in May.


the rabbi's daughter's wedding

When the Rabbi's daughter gets married, it's sure to be a big deal. And when the rabbi is the popular Rabbi Yona Matusof, director of Chabad House of Madison, it's the biggest Chasidic wedding Madison has ever seen.

Groom Nissi Gansbourg (center) and bride Chanie Matusof are congratulated by Nissi's brother after their wedding ceremony March 25.

During the ceremony, groom Nissi Gansbourg (center) stands under the ceremonial chupa, surrounded by patriarchs, including his father (on his left), his new father-in-law Rabbi Yona Matusof, (to his right) and his grandfather Rabbi Yitschok Gniwisch.

Rabbi Yosef Kantor is a rabbi in Thailand and flew from Bangkok to participate the celebration.

Client: Wisconsin State Journal. Read the article here

Thanks for the interest in this story. I've now uploaded additional photos from the wedding. Click on each thumbnail to see a bigger version.


pictures before an exhibition

Liquidator Mikhail Shumak's family at his grave in Sukachi, Ukraine, near Chernobyl.
I spent the weekend finishing a grant proposal. Never a favorite activity, but I am excited about this one. We requested $2,500 from the Madison Arts Commission to mount an exhibit of my Chernobyl photos this coming summer. I'm working with the non-profit FOCCUS. Even if we don't get funding, some version of the exhibit will be on display June through August at two sites in Madison.

Here are two of the photos I included with the application. I don't think either of them have seen the light of day (or the flicker of the web) before.

An abandoned bus rusts away in the forest near Lyutezh, Ukraine, south of Chernobyl.
Some more details about the first photo:
The village cemetery in Sukachi, 20 kilometers south of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, is full of liquidators who served in the clean-up efforts after the Chernobyl accident. On Victory Day (May 9, 2007), Nadiya Ivanivna Shumak and her family visit the grave of her husband Mikhail Fedorovich Shumak, who died in October 2006 at the age of 61 with heart problems possibly caused by radiation. Since he lived nearby, Mikhail volunteered as a liquidator, cleaning contaminated vehicles in 1986 and doing construction and repair of canals in 1989. “However, he was without papers,” says Nadiya. “They didn’t document him on a komandarovka, didn’t write down his name,” so that later, he did not qualify for a pension or benefits. “Chernobyl was a dangerous time” says Mikhail’s cousin Ivan Mertel of Ivankiv, at left. “There was one with a respirator and ten without. Now no one knows what is clean and what is dirty.” Also pictured: Shumak’s daughter Tanya, grand-daughter Yana, age 3. Sukachi village is just north of Ivankiv and has population of 1,200.



Alex's dad made this afghan for him by hand, and sent it to him from prison as a seventh birthday gift.
Alex, age 8, has lived with his grandparents since he was 16 months old, when his mother went into a psychiatric hospital and his father was on trial. Today, Alex's dad is serving time in Redgranite prison near Wautoma, and his mother may be living in Washington or Nevada or Missouri. For Alex's seventh birthday, his dad spent over 500 hours crocheting and cross-stitching the afghan which now decorates Alex's bed. "We used to go see him a lot, but now we haven't been there for like 2 years," says Alex. "I would like to go more." Alex is one of about 46,000 children in Wisconsin (4.5 million children nationwide) who live with grandparents but not parents.

Grandparents raising grandchildren: read the full story in this coming week's Isthmus.


flashing Hillary

Readers asked about my use of flashes at campaign events so I thought I'd answer questions here. To start, here is a side-by-side comparison of the difference a remote flash can make:

Top: with flash, 50 feet to the right and 20 feet up. Bottom: no flash. Senator Hillary Clinton greets fans before speaking to several thousand supporters in Madison, Wisconsin, the day before the primary election.
Basically you asked: Why?
I hope the examples above answer why. You can see the difference most on Hillary's hair and the face of the girl in the middle. The light helps Hillary stand out from the crowd, which she badly needs to do right now!

These events are often held in giant bat caves (gyms, convention halls) Even though the podium and parts of the room may be well-lit, I don't have control over it. I get cleaner light when I add my own. I prefer unobtrusive lighting, so I blend my flash with the million different light sources present (spotlights, overhead fluorescents, TV newslights, 2,000 point-and-shoot flashes.) My goal is usually to get some nice side light or rim light to separate the subjects and background.

It's true, more can go wrong when you add lighting. Batteries die. People get in the way. But to be honest, in a scrum like this, a lot of shots will fail no matter what. I hope to get a few great shots. Sometimes I succeed.

And how?
I use Pocket Wizards, which send a radio signal from my camera to my flash. I set up a small flash ahead of time, taping it to some railing or wall out of the way. Secret Service hasn't bothered me. And there is usually time to kill between security clearance and the start of the event to do it. I don't file photos as fast as people shooting for the dailies, so I have freedom to play. (Thank god.)

And tell us the geeky technical details.
The two photos above were taken less than a second apart. Too fast for my flash to recharge. Both were shot at 1600 ASA, 1/125 at F4. Canon 20D. Nikon SB26 about 50 feet away at 1/4 power. Orange gel on flash (1/2 CTS I think) to match mostly tungsten spotlights with camera set to 3700K.

Ok, I'll get off my soapbox now. You can learn much much more about using off-camera flash at

/* Google Analytics code: ----------------------------------------------- */