Del and Chrissie go for the nuclear option!

On Monday evening 7th November, club member Del Delap together with Chrissie Eastwood provided members with a fascinating visual treat – “Experiences from Chernobyl”. It was a one-off opportunity to gain a glimpse into a well-known but little seen world. Nearly everyone can remember Chernobyl – the town in Ukraine where there was a catastrophic nuclear accident that occurred on 26 April 1986 that created updrafts for 9 days lofting plumes of radioactive isotopes into the atmosphere, which spread over much of the western USSR and Europe. The town was abandoned but some people insisted on staying in the area, and now about 700 people live there. Del Delap had visited the area with others to create a pictorial record of the area 30 years on. Very little is seen from within the exclusion zone but Del and Chrissie’s attention-grabbing photographs created a unique pictorial record of a unique place.

Del started the evening by giving some of the background on the disaster and the lives it affected, supported by very sobering statistics. Even before Chernobyl, Del had images from the start of the Ukrainian independence movement including photographs of the demonstrations and this provided a good introduction to what followed. The story then moved to Chernobyl itself and their hotel giving a glimpse to a different, and not very luxurious, world. On the way to the exclusion zone itself there were shots of a dead forest and haunting pictures of checkpoints. There were very limited photographs of the reactor site itself as the authorities were not keen on publicity and photography was banned (a regulation backed up with heavily armed guards and police) but Del manged to get a few with his phone. The reactor core is a hot today as it was 30 years ago!

After the reactor site it was on to the abandoned villages. There were really emotive pictures of abandoned houses and rooms. Powerful images showing the desolation and the accumulation of 30 years of dust and decay conveyed the reality behind a news story. Incredibly people have returned to live there. Although each image told a “story”, Del was at pains to point out that virtually none of the images were “staged” – simply shot as they were found. The cold light of December in the Ukraine just added to the feeling of decay. Images of the old Kindergarten were particularly poignant. Throughout all this Del’s commentary gave a fascinating insight into the events of the past 30 years and of how he and Chrissie felt going through the villages and towns, whilst Chrissie kept the images coming via the laptop and projector (200 for the evening!).

At the start of the second half Del talked a little about the photographic equipment they used. There was clearly an emphasis on quality and medium format cameras figured prominently. Then it was back to Chernobyl – not just on the night as Del and Chrissy have visited more than once and still plan to go back. In this half the images came a little more slowly as Del spent a more time over the photographic aspects with explanations of how some of the shots were achieved.. They went to Pripyat which is a large town with tower blocks – but no people! It was very close to the containment area of the reactor. The audience witnessed some unique, if not bizarre, cityscapes. Five star hotels and swimming pools simply abandoned. As a diversion from buildings large and small, Del ventured a little into the forests to try and photograph the packs of wolves that live there but he didn’t find any. Del and Chrissie finished off with images from Douga where there is an extremely large antenna which was used to detect the launch of missiles from the United States. Most people will not know of this but it emitted a loud clicking/tapping noise which sounded like a woodpecker which spread across a large part of the radio frequencies creating interfering. As a licensed radio amateur I know, personally, the annoyance this caused but had never seen it!

Eventually time ran out on Del and Chrissie and they had to wind up their presentation. It had fulfilled its promise to be a unique evening and was enthusiastically received by the large audience.

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