[EAS] Desolate Places

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Wed May 19 04:24:09 EDT 2004

Subject:   Desolate Places

Dear Colleagues -

There are a number of poignant photographic Web sites of ruins,
urban, industrial, military, of abandoned insane asylums,
orphanages, of large abandoned technology like steel plants, train
yards and mines. One such site of high photographic quality is
<http://oboylephoto.com/ruins/index.htm>. I might also mention

New England Ruins

An abandoned underground missile complex (who knows, perhaps soon
to be refurbished)

I suppose every age has its fascination with ruins. E.g. the
painters Hubert Robert and Caspar Friedrich specialized in romantic
ruined buildings in ruined parks or craggy landscapes, dotted with
occasional small figures.  Hubert went so far as to paint elaborate
imaginary views of famous buildings, like the Louvre, in ruins. It
created a kind of "instant antiquity," a new romantic perspective,
and a thoroughly safe one, on the present. Our modern ruins still
have their fascination, but are far less romantic, far more
troubling and sometimes highly unsafe.

One such record of modern ruin was pointed out to me by my colleague 
Dr. Maria Gherasimova. It is a series of photographs with text about
the dead zone around Chernobyl, compiled by Elena, a young Ukrainian
woman who traverses it on her Kawasaki motorcycle.


It is a memorable experience. Some quotes from Elena's text:

"Radiation sits on the soil, on the grass, in apples and mushrooms.
It is not retained by asphalt, which makes rides through this area

<http://www.kiddofspeed.com/chapter7.html> "The fire engines never
returned to their garages, and the firemen never returned to their
homes.  These fire engines are some of the most radioactive objects
in all of Chernobyl. The firemen were the first on the scene, and
they thought it was an ordinary fire. No one told them, what they
were really dealing with."

"We are at the gates of the Ghost Town. It was founded in 1970 and
located 4 kms north of the reactor. 48,000 people lived here and
loved their town. In 1986, it was a modern, green and cozy place to

"...this shop was emptied out in a matter of an hour. The police
began shooting looters in May, when radioactive TV sets began to
appear in the pawn shops of Kiev."

<http://www.kiddofspeed.com/chapter18.html> "Perhaps future
archeologists will compare this town to Pompeii. The Soviet era is
forever preserved here - in the radiation that will last for many

<http://www.kiddofspeed.com/chapter23.html> "The day after the
accident, this place on the bridge provided a good view of the
gaping crack in the nuclear containment vessel that was ruptured by
the explosion. Many curious people came here to have a look and were
bathed in a flood of deadly x-rays emanating directly from the
glowing nuclear core."

<http://www.kiddofspeed.com/chapter27.html> "This sculpture was in
the center of the town, it was moved to the nuclear power plant
after the accident. It is Prometheus stealing fire from Gods and
giving it to the humans..."

[The Chernobyl disaster took place on Saturday April 26th, 1986,
triggered by an ill-fated test procedures that started Friday
evening, and included the disabling of the automatic shutdown safety
mechanisms.  --PJK]

"The Communist government that was in power then kept silent about
this accident. In Kiev, they forced people to take part in their
preciously stupid labor day parade and it was then that ordinary
people began hearing the news of the accident from foreign radio
stations and relatives of those who died. The real panic began 7-10
days after accident. Those who were exposed to the exceedingly high
levels of nuclear radiation in the first 10 days when it was still a
state secret, incuding unsuspecting visitors to the area, either
died or have serious health problems."

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