Trevor has been taking photographs for many years and is President of Winchester Photographic Society.
He has made two two-day visits (in 2016 and 2019) to the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986. The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant was in the USSR when the accident occurred, but it is now in Ukraine near the Belarus border. Trevor travelled via Kiev (a city he highly recommends for a long-weekend visit) to reach Chernobyl and the abandoned town of Pripyat where power plant workers had lived.
As an engineer himself, and with some experience in the nuclear industry, Trevor was well able to explain the background to the accident, what actually happened, and subsequent events.
Chernobyl had four huge RBMK type reactors, with two more under construction. However, a planned safety test in Reactor 4 miscarried and caused the catastrophic steam explosion that blew masses of radioactive material out into the air. Continuing fires also released more radioactive material leading to high levels of radiation across the whole area. Even so, local people were not evacuated for another three-and-a-half days.
Despite some clean-up attempts, this area still has high levels of radiation today and is now an “exclusion zone”. However, visits may be made by organised parties with the required special permits. Visitors need to wear a dosimeter and carry a personal Geiger counter to test anything they intend to touch.
In the first part of the talk, Trevor showed us pictures from around and within the Chernobyl site. His party had visited the Reactor 3 Control Room and the cooling pumps and been allowed up to the wall of Reactor 4.
Trevor also showed us some images from Pripyat. These included the amusement park (the Ferris wheel, dodgem cars, the merry-go-round), the motor pool (over 200 vehicles of all different types – all rusting junk as everything of value had been salvaged or stolen), and the Railway Station (this has been used since the disaster but is no longer in use).
And there were images of a massive cooling tower (including a video demonstrating that the sound of a balloon being burst inside the tower echoes around the tower like rolling thunder) and of the huge framework of “DUGA4” (part of the Soviet Missile Early Warning System). Apparently, DUGA4 needed lots of power which was provided by the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. There is a conspiracy theory that DUGA4 did not work, so – to conceal that failing – the Soviet authorities sabotaged Chernobyl!
In the second part of his talk, Trevor showed us more pictures from Pripyat, including many taken within the buildings.
Pripyat was built to serve the Nuclear Power Plant in Chernobyl about two miles away. Having been abandoned after the disaster, it is now a ghost town and is deteriorating rapidly as it naturally reverts to woodland. So there are trees everywhere, growing up through the tarmac and concrete. There is also lots of, mostly very artistic, graffiti as well as some “left over” Soviet murals.
Trevor’s images included:
- The sports hall;
- The swimming pools (both an Olympic-sized adult pool and a children’s pool);
- The hotel (including the dance hall);
- The hospital where casualties from the accident were treated (including waiting rooms, examination rooms, offices, side wards, a concert/lecture hall, and children’s wards – with lots of papers, books, bottles, even syringes, etc lying around);
- The riverside café and the floating restaurant (not floating anymore);
- Dockside cranes;
- The High School (including a room full of gas masks, toilets, classrooms, a military training room, the library, the music room, and the sports hall – again with lots of papers, books, etc. lying around);
- A kindergarten (including dormitories, a bathroom, and a changing room – with lots of slippers, toys, and dolls etc. lying around); and
- An apartment block.
Although there is much photographic interest in the dilapidated buildings’ exteriors and interiors, Trevor was even more interested in the details to be found – the papers and other abandoned articles lying around, the furniture, the artwork, even some stained glass.
There were also some pictures of “Colin the fox” who had followed Trevor’s group around scrounging food. There is lots of wildlife around the area – but, strangely, no birds.
Trevor used to use a Canon camera but then went over to an Olympus (used on the 2019 trip). He took a tripod and a flashlight on both trips. But he never used the tripod and took only two shots with the flashlight. Many of the building interiors are of course very dim with no artificial lighting. But he found places to rest the camera for long exposures and used higher ISO (the Olympus handles the noise extremely well). He also bracketed many shots, partly because he is keen on HDR and partly to deal with the high contrast of bright sunlight coming through the windows into the gloomy interiors.
Outdoors, mainly because some of the Chernobyl buildings are massive, he often took multiple shots to create 24-shot HDR panoramas.
This was a riveting evening for both the fascinating subject matter and the compelling images, especially those taken within the decaying buildings of Pripyat. And it was all excellently presented by Trevor. This must be one of the ultimate “urban exploration” photographic destinations.
Scarily, there are still ten RBMK type reactors operating today, including four at St Petersburg – although their design has apparently been modified!
More of Trevor’s work, including his LRPS panel, can be found on his website at www.morecraft.com