Three exhibits going on right now at the Contact Festival examines how a number of photographers explore the destruction of human spaces. New York City photographer Joel Meyerowitz shows his large format photos of Ground Zero in an empty building converted into the HP Gallery for the month of May. A few doors down at Nicholas Metivier, Robert Polidori takes his camera into the no-mans land of Chernobyl and finally just up the street is Disaster Topographics with Edward Burtynsky, David McMillan and Hiromi Tsuchida at Gallery TPW.
Tsuchida and Meyerowitz choose to show how a city moves on despite others inflicting great trauma on them. Tsuchida’s photos document a number of sites around Hiroshima, a city unfortunately defined by that one great act of violence. But without reminders that these are photos of Hiroshima, Tsuchida’s photos would simply be Japanese cityscapes but placed in this context he tries to capture the underlying psychic traumas that still resonate in the city.
Meyerowitz tries to show us how New York dealt with the 9-11 attacks. These large format photos are impressive but raise the question whether Meyerowitz actually aestheticizes a great tragedy. The pictures do show us the scale of the disaster, and the impressiveness of the recovery effort but rather than being somber pieces of remembrance these photos actually have a cinematic beauty about them that is almost unsettling considering their subject matter.
The same can’t be said for Polidori (shown below) and McMillan’s meditative photographs of Chernobyl. The nuclear meltdown left a large stretch of the Ukrainian countryside empty of people, with schools and buildings left to slowly collapse. Yet these “empty” spaces aren’t entirely devoid of life. One of McMillan’s photos show us a downright pastoral scene of the Eastern European countryside and a number of them show how saplings have grown into full grown trees inside these very same abandoned buildings. With the cold war receding into memory and nuclear destruction no longer the dominant apocalyptic vision, Chernobyl serves as a reminder of how our futures might’ve ended.