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In this installment of Douglas Kirkland On Photography, Douglas Kirkland talks with his friend and colleague, Gerd Ludwig. A photojournalist best known for his work in National Geographic magazine, Gerd Ludwig has taken a special interest in Russia and the former Soviet Union—in particular, the people and stories surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
As the installment begins, Gerd is packing for this third major trip to Chernobyl. Gerd shares his techniques for choosing and packing gear for a photojournalism expedition.
Next, Douglas and Gerd sit down for a wide-ranging conversation. They discuss the changing business landscape of photography and Gerd’s approach to photojournalism. Gerd also describes how and why he works in Chernobyl and details how he financed his latest trip through the crowdfunding site Kickstarter.com.
After Gerd returns from Chernobyl, he and Douglas meet again to review some of the photographs and video that Gerd shot during his latest trip. They talk about Chernobyl today, about how video is impacting photojournalism, and about the future of Gerd’s "Long Shadow of Chernobyl" project.
Gerd > When I was a young photographer I often thought of photography only as the art and I didn't want to have anything to do with the business side of it. Oh my God, it's not an industry. I'm in art firm and not-- I hated the term it's an industry, it's a business. And I've learned over the years that as a photographer as I'm losing certain outlets for income, I have to be creative to gain other areas of income somewhere else.
I think if you're creative person, you have to apply that creativity also to the business side of it. Because you're not a great photographer if you lack the funds to actually photograph. Because then you're not producing anything that is close to your heart. Douglas > I think it is very important that it's stated how you are going right to Chernobyl. You were initially assigned this by National Geographic and then you've been there twice for them have you? Gerd > Yeah.
Douglas > And this was like okay the clock is running, they're paying you money, or making a living, and you're communicating a story that you feel has to be told. Gerd > Well it's started out that I had assumed all along I would find some magazine that would be-- Douglas > A sponsor of?? Gerd > No, some magazine that would be interested in sending me back there. Of course for an extended period of time and for such an expensive place like Chernobyl, hard to believe but they charge $600 a day for a driver and a car in the zone simply because they can.
But I didn't find anybody to assign me to do it and I wanted to do it so badly, so I was thinking of other ways to collect the money and it was actually Brandon, my studio manager, that pointed out that crowd funding has become more and more popular. Douglas > What kind of funding? Gerd > Crowd funding has become more and more popular to finance your own projects.
Not only for photography. For bookmaking, for music, for art. Douglas > How do you describe crowd funding? How do you describe it, how does it work? Gerd > Crowd funding is when the general public, an interested public, basically votes with their pocketbooks to support a certain creative project via Internet. There are a number of web sites out there, Kickstarter being the most prominent one, one and basically what you do you write to them and give them a statement, this is what you would love to do. And they have to approve it.
(Music playing) Gerd > My name is Gerd Ludwig and I've been photographing for National Geographic magazine for over 20 years focusing on environmental issues and the changes in the former Soviet Union. To commemorate the disaster, 25 years later I'm set to return with my cameras to investigate the current state of contamination, the progress of the cleanup, and the health consequences in the fallout region.
I am asking for your support, so that this important story will not be forgotten. Gerd > You also have to think through that you want to give those people who pledge some money over the Internet, over Kickstarter, with a credit card that they get something in return. In my case for a donation of $10 they get a postcard, for $45 they get a poster, for $100 they get my book Broken Empire signed by me, for $500 they get a print, and I've made it even so that companies can put their logo on my web site for $2000.
I created simultaneously a Facebook page, a German web site, and an American language web site for the Chernobyl Project. Initially, this crowd funding came from really young people and I was one of the first rather established photographers to say well, I don't need be that arrogant and say oh no, this is only for people that are-- Douglas > For kids! Gerd > For kids.
Gerd > Let's looks at that new technology and use it. I have to look ahead and learn from the younger generation. We have to learn from the younger guys where the work does. Douglas > Yeah, I too, I agree. I learned with people who work with me. I mean honestly, they learn from me but it's a two way process. Gerd > Yeah, yeah. Douglas > Because, you know, I worked with the computers ever since there were computers almost. But what they do with them today is different and that's cool and I want to be part of it.
I don't want to go to sleep someplace. I just don't want to. All of it is exciting stuff. Gerd > Exactly. Douglas > Hey listen. We're going to keep knocking them dead! Gerd > Yeah, right! Douglas > Have a good trip man!
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