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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 > Remember when we met? I think you said it was like 30 years ago today or something like that, which was in Australia. You came to this project which was called A Day in the Life of Australia. They brought a hundred photographers from all over the world to work on a book project. It was the first of the series of about 25 book projects of this type that were done and you said it was a big deal that meet me that first day, which is kind of funny now, because so much is happening. You've had such a- Gerd > One of my heroes. You still are! Douglas > You are too. It's a two-way street.
Gerd > But there I arrived from Germany and this was a much bigger world then. It was not as small as today where you know everybody, where you have immediate access to everything. But there were these people like Susan Meiselas, Eddie Adams, Salgado, Arthur Grace, all the people, Donald Falardeau, you name them and these were all... Mary Ellen Mark. There were all these superstars, and I actually went up to some of them, including you at some point, and touched you because I thought, oh my god, I can really touch these people.
Douglas > Well you know that's what people want to do with you these days because you evolved and developed and your career became major. Gerd > Well Australia helped me to be put on the map in America because I had quite of few images in the Day in the Life of Australia. Then we went to do the Day in the Life Of Hawaii. What was the next? Douglas > Oh, there was Canada. Gerd > Canada! Gerd > Oh you were one of the one of the organizers. Douglas > It's because I'm Canadian, born in Canada in Toronto. But in any case, just looking at your career, you've made, you've found your way to such a major position, there were so many changes and I think what's very significant is how our thought process had to change through the years.
Because originally you tried to get a staff job or a near staff job with one publication and that did it all. But it's so changed now. How do you work today, how does your head work for a business stand point? Gerd > Well, let's recap first how it was 20, 30 years ago. You know, we worked for one magazine at a time for-- Douglas > We got nice big pictures in it. Gerd > An extended period of time even there was a German sports magazine that I worked for. I got-- it was very similar like a Geo or National Geographic- Douglas > Or Sports illustrator.
Gerd > Just Sports, a monthly magazine with really a glossy paper. It was four week jobs. Douglas > Four week jobs, and boy, the way those looked in the magazine were exceptional. Gerd > I had one story of seven consecutive double trucks. Douglas > How did you find your way from those days to today in the most direct way you can recall? Gerd > Well I think first of all when you're a young photographer you're very excited to be all over the place. Both stylistically and subject-wise and in terms of region, you know. You're very excited.
I was on every continent within a 12 month period of time and you start nearly collecting countries. And when you get older and mature as a photographer you find your own calling, and it is important, specifically today, that you have this calling, that you are known for a specific subject or a style.
But, it's not anymore just one magazine. Now it is crossover. You have to do exhibits. You have to do all these things, and that developed slowly, as we know.
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