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hazy shade of winter

A few weeks ago, my friend Andy Adams at Flak Photo put out a call for winter photos. I just spent a fascinating hour looking through some nominations that came in. There are remarkable and beautiful photos here.

Two faves:
Bejamin Wirtz Siegel
Chibi Lai

And yet: I'm troubled by the entries as a whole. Over and over and over again, these photographers are portraying winter as snowy, bleak and desolate. Or beautiful and desolate. Or icy and desolate. Snow. Fog. Gray. Trees. Ice. There is a sameness to many entries that soon becomes numbing.

Take the photos of empty, snowy roads. I counted at least 8 of them. Ashley Lebedev's version was my favorite, but you know, it is still another empty snowy road.

Yes, there are notable exceptions that show originality:
- Miniatures by Walter Martin and Paloma Munoz
- Bizarre Christmas trees by William Lamson and Peter Riesett and Ben Huff.
- This shot by Rachel Hulin.
But sadly they are too few and far between.

As a photojournalist, maybe I'm just missing the point. Why create photos that are neither informative nor beautiful nor interesting nor entertaining nor surprising nor emotive? I mean no one offense, but I generally aspire to at least one of these criteria in a photo.

In my work, I seek to create beautiful or troubling images that tell a story. The best photoreportage is both aesthetic and narrative. Take for example, Damon Winter's snowy Central Park photo in today's New York Times.

But back to the monotonous desolation. What if winter, perhaps, means a little bit more?

I mean, where are the kids playing in the snow?

Where are the people dying of exposure?

Where are the people, period? Except for some ethnographic portraits of reindeer herders, the Flak entries are often devoid of life.

And if it's desolation you want, why not go all the way? Where are photos of the long dark nights?

I'm not saying my photos are any better than those entered, but at least I hope they show more variety.

Tomorrow Andy reveals his favorite winter shots on Flak Photo and I'll be eager to see his choices.

(All above photos are mine from Chernobyl.)


award winning

Returning home from Chernobyl. In the winter, it is still dark when Chernobyl workers leave Slavutych and already dark again by the time they arrive home. In total, over 3,800 out of 24,300 Slavutych residents work at the Chernobyl plant.

I never win any photography competitions. It might have something to do with the fact that I never enter them. This year, I decided to enter the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar's competition. Partly because I am looking for a gallery or museum to exhibit my Chernobyl project in 2011.

So I was delighted to win the First Place prize in the Pictorial category for the above photo. I always liked this shot that I made almost a year ago, but it got cut from my Inside Chernobyl exhibit because it was too similar -- visually and thematically -- with another photo we included.

See the other 2009 winners here and here.

So there you go. Now you can add award-winning to the list of compound adjectives that describe me, along with hard-working, clear-sighted and big-nosed.


Moscow exhibit

A wall of dials in Chernobyl's First Block control room once indicated the level of each fuel rod in the reactor core. Although the plant stopped producing electricity in 2000, nuclear fuel remains stored inside three reactor halls.

Some of my recent photographs from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant are in a new exhibit, opening this week in Moscow.

The exhibit, ХОТИМ, ЧТОБЫ ПОМНИЛИ (Wanting Rememberance) includes documentary photos and video installations showing life in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone before and after the 1986 accident. The exhibit has work from 5 Ukrainian photographers and filmmakers, 3 Russians, and me. The show, organized by, coincides with the annual memorial day for liquidators (Chernobyl veterans) on December 14.

Exhibit opening: December 2, 6 pm.

The show runs December 2 to 13 in the выставочном зале «Творчество» (Gallery Creativity), Ulitsa Taganskaya 31/22, between Rimskaya and Marxistskaya Metro stations. (Map here; directions here).

Other events include:
Daily - Screenings of films by Rollan Sergienko
Dec 6, 2 pm - Roundtable discussion by former residents of Pripyat.
Dec 12, 3 pm - Presentation: Status and Future of Chernobyl's "New Safe Confinement".
Dec 13, 12 pm - Presentation: Understanding Radiation A to Z.

Exhibit site:

Download the press release (in Russian) here.

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