Ebling’s Newest Exhibit

Ebling Library and the UW Health Art Department presents: After Chernobyl, the images of photojournalist Michael Forster Rothbart. Along with the evocative photos of people, buildings, animals and the denuded and recovering landscape, Michael offers a cohesive narrative, consisting of a single description on each photo panel, chronicling life in post nuclear accident Chernobyl.

Forster Rothbart spent two years in Chernobyl interviewing and photographing the residents of the area. His photos evoke a strong connection between photographer and subject, whether inanimate or human. In contrast to the provocative promotional image, the majority of the photographs instill a sense of forward movement, of honoring the past (Chernobyl’s accident was in 1986) and then profiling the capable, problematic existence in Chenobyl and the surrounding towns, cities and villages.

As Forster Rothbart suggests: “Dolls lay scattered on a classroom floor of the Solntsye kindergarten in Pripyat, the abandoned city one mile from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. A closed Soviet city with population 49,360, Pripyat was built to house workers at Chernobyl. Today Pripyat is an eerie ghost town. Any valuables have long-since been stolen, but the toys remain. In the days following the Chernobyl accident, families were evacuated and told they could return in 3 days. Some have never returned, yet still mourn their paradise lost. When strangers think of Chernobyl, this is what they imagine: dusty, abandoned dolls. And yes, they are here. You’ve seen them. Now let’s move on.”

And move on, he does. The installation itself evokes an airy, curtain like aesthetic, the over-sized photo panels moving slightly on their hinges, their stark white margins making the images of engineers, farmers, street scenes, bees, and children pop from their background; the evocative text lending another poignant, reverential, informational air. As a visitor has already commented, “Really, people still live there?! I had no idea…” Forster Rothbart’s exhibit is about tenacity, hope, technology, nature, love, the invisibility of radiation, the vagaries of science and the inhabitant’s devotion to homeland.

From his last panel in the show: “Most outsiders think Chernobyl is a place of danger and despair, and so that is what they photograph. For me, however, Chernobyl tells a story about endurance and hope. I created this exhibit because I want the world to know what I know: the people of Chernobyl are not victims, mutants and orphans. They are simply people living their lives, with their own joys and sorrow, hopes and fears. Like you. Like me.”

Formerly at UW, Michael now makes his home in New York. He is working on a number of projects including a documentary on children’s summer camps and chronicling the effects of the tsunami and earthquake on the nuclear plant in Fukushima, Japan. For some background, visit Michael’s web site.

After Chernobyl opened on June 14 and goes until August 31st, 2013. The installation hangs in Ebling’s 3rd floor galleries, just up the stairs in the 3rd floor landing, and all along the group study room on the south side of the 3rd floor.
Also come see the complementary historical exhibit, Fallout: The Mixed Blessing of Radiation & the Public Health, in Ebling’s 3rd floor Historical Reading Room until the end of August. The exhibits are open when Ebling is open.

Questions about either exhibit? Contact Micaela, msullivan@library.wisc.edu
All images of Chernobyl, copyright of Michael Forster Rothbart