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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 > I wanted to ask you something, did you not learn about the devastation in Japan when you were in Chernobyl or was it after you came out? Gerd > I learnt about it when I arrived in Kiev and I was shooting a few days in the hospitals of the area in one of the radiology centers which takes care of the sick people in Kiev, and that's when I learned about it.
But then afterwards I did not have any more information, because once I entered the zone there was no Internet access for two weeks and I did not know what happened. The television had only a few programs and we were not able to understand any of the Ukrainian news. Douglas > It's not in Russian, it's Ukrainian. Gerd > Yeah, so I learned a bit from the scientists in the reactor, from the personnel, from our security guards, but it was all a second and third-hand information.
Douglas > If I understand correctly the people at Time magazine were trying to get the go to guy, Gerd Ludwig, to go to Japan. Gerd > That's right. Douglas > But they couldn't get a hold of him because he was at Chernobyl without very much communication. Gerd > That's right. I would not have been able to interrupt my assignment in Chernobyl anyway. I would have gone if it had been a different timing. However, I want to stay with the subject of Chernobyl. After all, it will always remain the first major disaster and everything that's coming afterwards is secondary at this point, thank God.
Douglas > Well, your work is wonderful. It's a great contribution. Gerd > Good things have actually come out of it because we had two major exhibits. One was at the EBRD, the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development in London, with a lot of the ambassadors attending, and it showed these very emotional images to an audience that is responsible or contributes to the funds for the new safe confinement.
And a second exhibit happened in Germany where we had an exhibit at a photo festival and it had a very interesting location. As it was in the former East Germany, there was a building that used to be the Navy, the military building. And it housed the sailors and the marines of East Germany.
And the building is totally run down today. And we had the exhibit, not only as an exhibit of images, but also some of the video was playing and we had boards of information about the accident altogether. The people were coming out devastated. They had to sit down and were really moved, because it gave you the feeling of entering into a room in Prypiat, the town in the Chernobyl zone.
Douglas > Where does all this take you and then in the future? How is it evolving for you in your mind? Gerd > Right now I'm working on an iPad app that could be viewed on the iPad, on a computer, on the iPhone. Douglas > On a smart phones as well? Gerd > Yes, and that will give not only 140 images altogether but it'll also give some of the video. It'll give a history of Chernobyl and it will give web sites that give you information about Chernobyl and will actually even give you web sites where you can donate to the victims of Chernobyl.
So that it appeals to a much wider audience than just the photo communities. Douglas > It's going to be seen by a lot of people,. I am certain millions will see it. Douglas > What I want to do is thank you for all of us for coming here today and sharing this with us. It is very, very important. Your story is in an extremely important one and people should know about it. Gerd > It's always my pleasure to talk to you, Douglas. Douglas > You're a great photographer and a wonderful photojournalist, and above all, a wonderful friend.
Douglas > Thank you. Gerd > Thank you.
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