I/Eye: On Photography

New nuclear now nuke no know Knoth

Posted in Other Photographers, portraits by Sheila Newbery on February 17, 2010

Read the story in today’s New York Times about the Obama administration’s plans  for nuclear power construction projects in Georgia, and then take a stroll over to visit  (or revisit) photographer Robert Knoth‘s consideration of the former Soviet Union’s 45-year-long (and very troubled) marriage to nuclear power in his book Certificate No. 000358. (The title of the book comes from the case file of Annya Pesenko — pictured below at 15 on the book’s cover — sick most of her life from radiation-related disease.)

Knoth’s work stresses that

Chernobyl was by no means exceptional: it was just another example in a series of devastating nuclear accidents that have taken place in the last 45 years in the former Soviet Union.

In an announcement of the 2008 exhibition of Knoth’s work at the Australian Centre for Photography, Greenpeace noted:

Large areas of the former Soviet Union are contaminated, not only by incidents like Chernobyl, but by unsafe practices in the nuclear industry and hundreds of nuclear tests since the 1950s. Despite this, Russia plans to double its number of operating reactors by 2020 and play a key role in processing and storing radioactive materials from all over the world in the 21st century.

Knoth’s portraits are calm but unflinching; a further sobering check on nuclear ‘optimism’ can be found in The probability of nuclear accidents, a Greenpeace white paper that glances at our own (American) history of over-confidence in the odds of avoiding meltdowns. It remarks, too, on Chernobyl’s difference from and relevance to our own exploration of the nuclear temptation.

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