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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.
Douglas > So here we're in the Hollywood Hills of my friend Gerd Ludwig's home and he has lived here for a couple of years. We have known each other for about 30 years, so come on in. Gerd will be happy to see us. Mr. Ludwig! Gerd > Hey Douglas! How are you? Douglas > Very well. Gerd > It's good to see you, man. It's been a while, huh, since you were here last time? [00:00.20.02] You remember the old days? Douglas > Yeah, we don't use these things anymore, dude. Gerd > Can you see how they fade? Douglas > Ah, I see. They never faded well. We never admitted to it, did we? Douglas > This is one of my favorites.
Gerd > ?at the end of the day. And as you know it's very typical for my style of photography, that participatory photography, I'm taking a shot on myself because I was down in the pits myself, in the mines I should say, and I looked like him, but I still kept my camera. Douglas > Nobody dares more than you do, Gerd. What's this? Gerd > These are all the geographics and look, this is the previous story in Chernobyl - Douglas > In Chernobyl? Gerd > Yeah.
Douglas > Okay, so this is where you're going tomorrow literally. Gerd > The cover of National Geographic and actually I do have here an older story from the very first time I went into the reactor and that was 1993. Actually not in the reactor. I went into the Chernobyl zone. Douglas > How many times you have been in Chernobyl and the previous Soviet Union? Gerd > Oh my God! I don't really know how many times. Probably 20 times.
Douglas > Okay Gerd, tomorrow is the day, the day you leave to go back to former Soviet Union. It's Ukraine, but it's more specifically the name Chernobyl which we certainly know well. How do you prepare in terms of your equipment? I'd like to see what you're taking, because -- Gerd > Douglas? Douglas > When you get in the car? Gerd > It might not be in that different from you. I always take one bag which allows me to exist without the rest of the luggage for at least two days, maybe three.
So the most essentials. One camera. Douglas > Any backup? Gerd > No, not on the carry-on. This is my carry-on. One camera. The most important lenses. Douglas > Which ones? Gerd > Wide, medium, and long. Douglas > Are they zooms? Gerd > Yeah. Douglas > Can you give us the focal lengths? Gerd > 16 to 35. Well, I have a bunch of intermediate lenses like 24-105 and then I'm taking 75-300 zoom, and then I take one strobe.
Douglas > Which you use brilliantly always. Gerd > And the remote control. Douglas > For the strobe? Gerd > For the strobe. And then of course enough flash cards for an extended period of time. Batteries. Douglas > How many batteries? Gerd > Batteries, spare batteries. Douglas > You must have a charger, don't you? Gerd > No, because for the first day this would last me through three days.
This is just the emergency equipment. If this and this and the rest was going to get lost, this will get me until it's recovered, or if it's never recovered until I'm able to purchase something. Or fly back and purchase something in another part of Europe. Douglas > Do you need different types of electrical adapters? Gerd > You know the essential things. Like cleaning, stuff that is hard to come by. Simply I don't use that many filters anymore, but I still use a polarizer.
And what is very important for my type of photography in the field are these little gels, handmade-- Douglas > To put over your flash? Gerd > Over my flash. I always use my flash with a gel. Douglas > It's a warming gel there. Gerd > It's a slight warming gel and it's my own system that I actually evolved myself. Douglas > Used brilliantly. Gerd > So then I have here my backup camera bodies.
I have backup strobes. I have additional lenses. I have additional flash cards. Here is a backup 1DS Mark III, 1DS Mark II. So I have a lot of backup lenses starting from 14 millimeter to a 24 shift lens that I use probably inside the reactor for architectural stuff inside the reactor and then I of course have all my drives.
Douglas > Oh yes. Gerd > And I'm traveling now with 1.5 terabytes, 1.5 terabytes in the field. Douglas > Right, to download your images from your cards for security as backup basically. Gerd > Yeah and I find Photo Mechanic is still a great tool because I can download them simultaneously to do two destinations and I can do-- Douglas > Should do a drive and a backup drive? Gerd > Yeah. I came back once with from one assignment with 30,000 images.
Douglas > That's unimaginable. Gerd > Yeah. For the time, we'll use this little GoPro camera as a head camera probably when I'm going inside the reactor. Douglas > It's a tiny little video camera and inside the rector, that is so smart. Because you know what happens today, I think most of you'd probably think of it, but it's not-- We are still photographers, yes, but there is often times such as when you're in there, if you have that small camera going, sooner or later I'm sure that video material will go online and find very good use because the quality of it would be a astonishing and the most important is you will have it. And by bringing this, comparatively inexpensive, having it with you, that's all part of evolving and staying with the times.
This is your Geiger counter here. Gerd > Yeah my Geiger counter goes in here and my strobes, my spare strobes. Douglas > Okay. Gerd > Wrapped up and -- Douglas > Why don't you just close this one case? Gerd > So this is basically everything, maybe one little piece is missing. So one of my tricks is I never close it completely. I leave it open till the last minute -- Douglas > And that's going to be tomorrow when we come for you. Gerd > Tomorrow morning. Douglas > We'll probably give you a call and you'll close it that last moment and say we'll be there in five minutes.
Gerd > Right, right. When you leave, I'm closing it, because otherwise I am going to reopen it over and over again. Douglas > Anyway, tomorrow morning is the day you'll launch. You're going to-- It's one more success for you. I can tell already. Just be careful! Gerd > I will, I will.
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