(prixpictet.com) Rena Effendi +++ Still Life in the Zone
Twenty-six years after the disaster, the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear accident are both visible like scars and invisible like air. While access to the area surrounding Reactor #4 is restricted with barbed wire and police checkpoints, more than 200 people – mostly elderly women – inhabit the 30 km area around it, now called the Zone of Alienation. These women survived the famine of Stalin’s blockade, Nazi occupation in WWII, and only days after the worst nuclear accident in the world’s history chose to return home. “A pigeon flies close to its nest! Those who left are dying of sadness…” – explains Maria Vitosh, one of the survivors.
Focusing on still life images – victuals, household items, relics of the disaster – I use the prism of Nature Morte to portray both the long-term effects of this nuclear catastrophe, and the power and persistence of the human spirit in the face of devastation. I am also fascinated by the earth’s ability to teem with life, not long after annihilation. The death-infused lives of the Chernobyl women, as seen through objects from their daily life, personify the promise and paradox of power – in reference to the dangers of nuclear energy and the awesome human will to survive. The story of Chernobyl turns Nietzsche’s dictum on its head – that which makes us stronger can also kill us.
Rena Effendi grew up in the USSR – witnessing her country’s rough path to independence, one marred by war, political instability and economic collapse. Educated as a linguist, she took her first photographs in 2001 after attending private painting classes. Ever since, she has photographed issues of conflict, social justice, and the oil industry’s effects on people and the environment.
From 2002-2008, she followed a 1,700 km pipeline through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey documenting the impact this multi-billion dollar project had on the impoverished farmers, fishermen and other citizens. Close to a hundred million dollars worth of oil is pumped daily to the West, however the people above ground live in desolation and despair in the shadow of false promises by governments and corporations to improve their lives. This six year journey became her first book – Pipe Dreams: A Chronicle of Lives Along the Pipeline, published by Schilt in 2009. The project received numerous awards including: the Getty Images Editorial grant, the Fifty Crows International Fund Award and the Magnum Foundation Caucasus Photographer Award. Pipe Dreams was exhibited at the 52nd Venice Biennial, the 2009 Istanbul Biennial and the Breda Museum of Art in the Netherlands amongst others.
Sine 2007 she has covered a wide range of stories in the post-Soviet region together with Turkey and Iran, including the 2008 Russia – Georgia conflict, female victims of heroin and sex trafficking in Kyrgyzstan and survivors of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. In 2008, Rena received the National Geographic ‘All Roads’ photography award for her portrayal of the disappearing culture of the Khinaliq village in the mountains of Azerbaijan. This work was exhibited in Washington DC and at the United Nations offices in New York.
In 2011, Rena Effendi received the Prince Claus Fund Award for Cultural Development, and moved to Cairo where she currently focuses on issues surrounding the Egyptian Christian minority in the post-revolution era; for this project, she received a grant from the Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund.
The shortlist for the Prix Pictet, the award devoted to photography and sustainability, features an array of talent on the theme of 'power'. UK photographer Edmund Clark explores Guantánamo Bay, Robert Adams takes a stark look at deforestation in the US north-west, and Azerbaijan artist Rena Effendi finds the elderly people still living in Chernobyl's 'zone of alienation'. Here is a selection of the images in the running
Rena Effendi, from the series Still Life in the Zone (Gas Masks Scattered on the Floor of a School Lobby in the Abandoned City of Prypiats. As a Result of the Nuclear Accident and the Subsequent Radioactive Fallout the Entire Population of Prypiats Had Been Evacuated and Never Returned Home, Chernobyl, Ukraine, December 2010)