I was thrilled to be invited to showcase my portrait of a boy swimming in a river near Chernobyl, Ukraine, at this year’s Portrait Salon galler(ies). The Portrait Salon exhibition toured the UK throughout 2014 and 2015 and my portrait was exhibited in London, Edinburgh, Bradford, North Wales and Birmingham.
My photo was in great company and it was wonderful to see such an array of beautiful and thought provoking portraits in one place. The exhibition in Birmingham was at the Parkside Gallery at Birmingham City University.
(You can see the whole ‘War without War’ Chernobyl series here)
Coincidentally, among the many striking photographs exhibited at Portrait Salon, was an image by Phil Le Gal. I had to good fortune to meet Phil in the Calais refugee camp recently as he worked on his ongoing project ‘The New Continent‘ (which is well worth following).
Here is Phil’s excellent portrait that was also in the Portrait Salon Exhibition. The image is part of his series ‘Days of Mercy‘ which “attempts to decode the practice of ancient religious rituals deeply buried in the heart of Brittany“. Wonderful stuff.
I have been to many exhibitions before, but it was really exciting to see my own image among such a wonderful group of photographs!
I use photography as part of my research practice, both to gain access to hidden spaces and communities, and to illustrate and communicate my ethnographic data once no longer in ‘the field’.
One of my photographs from my Chernobyl research was selected for the Images of Research exhibition at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. It shows one of the informal activities I witnessed and researched near the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in Ukraine.
A woman crosses the barbed wire fence into the contaminated nuclear Zone. Beyond her a track used by border guards to monitor and prevent trespassers runs parallel to the fence, and beyond that the contaminated forest of the Zone:
Many people informally enter the Exclusion Zone to collect scrap metal to sell on the black market, or to gather wild foods such as berries, mushrooms, and wild game to eat and sell. I spent long time learning from people who contest the official borders of the Zone, using a research method known as participant observation. Through participatory visual methods (which you can read about here) and many interviews with people who live near Chernobyl, I learnt about their alternative understandings of radiation risk and their complex relationship with place. You can read more about my academic research into the human geography of Chernobyl in these two papers:
Informality and Survival in Ukraine’s Nuclear Landscape: Living with the Risks of Chernobyl by Davies & Polese (2015)
A Visual Geography of Chernobyl: Double Exposure by Davies (2013)
Here is a quote from my research that relates to the image above:
"We know there is radiation there, and police say 'Don't go there, there is radiation'. On the fence there is a sign that says there is radiation: 'Don't go in, there is radiation'. But we go...Blueberries, blackberries..."
* * *
The Images of Research exhibition is free to view at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery from 16th-22nd March 2015.
# Chernobyl, exhibition, gallery, Images of research, participant observation, photography, visual methods