Book Review- “The Long Shadow of Chernobyl” by Gerd Ludwig

  By John Veldhoen

“The Long Shadow of Chernobyl” by Gerd Ludwig is the best photographic book on the subject of the Chernobyl disaster published to date. I want to bypass the downside of making comparisons, but I think there can be a good outcome by at least mentioning some other works on the subject, partly because photojournalism is not entirely like photographic art where formal analysis and comparison is more acceptable. I write this despite how exclusions tend to the bureaucratic and absurd. In Mr. Ludwig’s long and varied career he has taken the “best” portraits I have seen, of Vladimir Putin, and Joseph Beuys, two people who might be considered uncommon as types. 

Other books about Chernobyl that come to mind are Robert Polidori’s “Zones of Exclusion” and Andrej Krementschouk’s “Chernobyl: Zone (Volumes I and II).  Krementschouk’s work is the better, due to his deeper interaction with the people within the so-called “zone of exclusion”, whereas Polidori’s book is nearly all landscapes and interiors of places, much like his pictures of post-Katrina New Orleans, and economically ravaged areas of Detroit. It is the intensity of the interpersonal connection, or what Ludwig calls engagement, that sets his work apart. Ludwig makes mention in “Shadows of Chernobyl” of Adi Roche, an activist whose efforts seen in the movie “Chernobyl Heart”, which is harrowing, but well worth viewing. This film competes for attention due to the immersion of the viewer into the world of the victims of the disaster. Likewise, Andrej Krementschouk’s video work “Chernobyl: Heimat” also gets to the core of the personal, albeit with more abstraction and artfulness than the more direct “Chernobyl Heart”.

“The Long Shadow of Chernobyl” begins with an essay by former USSR Chairman Mikhail Gorbachev who makes the alarming observation that the Chernobyl event was the watershed moment in the devolution of the Soviet system. Five years after the reactor melted down, the USSR was no longer. It took a disaster to reduce the old political regime, and more, the consequences would befall the citizenry of an alienated body politic. Whatever comparison the reader might make with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, which I still regard as the most potentially destructive global-historical moment of my lifetime, Ludwig makes explicitly clear in his forward. Yet it is the intensity of this work that impresses me, not the political implications, or potential comparisons. Instead of verging into polemics, Ludwig makes masterful pictures in a style learned from 25 years of telling stories for National Geographic, avoiding cliché by maintaining simplicity.


The book “The Long Shadow of Chernobyl” won the FEP European Photobook of the Year award in 2013, and the POYi Best Photobook award for 2015.

Gerd Ludwig- The Winds of Change  

The Camera Store is presenting Gerd Ludwig- The Winds of Change on Thursday, February 26 at 7PM. Gerd will share images from his life in photography, concentrating on his experiences capturing the colossal changes following the dissolution of the Soviet Union to this very day as well as his haunting images from Chernobyl.

Copies of “The Long Shadow of Chernobyl” will be available for purchase at the presentation. Attendees will be eligible to purchase the book for 10% off.

Tickets for Gerd Ludwig- The Winds of Change are available through The Camera Store website.

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In addition to being on our sales team, John curates The Camera Store's book selection and is a contributing author of our blog. He likes to think about photography, talk about photography, and sometimes write about photography.