In the last 25 years, Scottish-born Canadian photographer David McMillan has made 21 trips to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Also referred to as the “Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Zone of Alienation” and simply “The Zone,” the Exclusion Zone’s purpose is to restrict access to some of the most radioactively contaminated areas in the world.
McMillan was inspired to document The Zone by his teenage memories of Nevil Shute’s 1959 film On the Beach, a disturbing post-apocalyptic science-fiction drama. The photos he made are compiled in Growth and Decay: Pripyat and the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, to be released on April 23 by Steidl.
In Pripyat, the town closest to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant where the nuclear disaster occurred in April 1986, McMillan found an irradiated city still standing, but void of human life. At the time of the accident, it was home to 45,000 people but it will never be lived in again. As one of the first artists to gain access to Pripyat and The Zone over 2 decades ago, McMillan initially explored the evacuated areas with few constraints and in solitude, with the exception of the occasional scientist monitoring the effects of radioactivity. Returning annually to the same locations allowed McMillan to revisit the sites of earlier photographs – sometimes fortuitously, sometimes intentionally – thereby “bearing witness to the inexorable forces of nature as they reclaimed the abandoned communities,” writes Steidl in a statement. His unhurried approach to documenting The Zone allowed time to find both unassuming and sensational scenes, giving rise to work that probes the relentless dichotomy between growth and decay in The Zone.