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 and Nazi occupation in WWII, and only days after the worst nuclear accident in the world’s history, they 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’m 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.
About the author
1977, Baku, Azerbaijan
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 to 2008, she followed a 1,700 km pipeline through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey documenting the impact this multibillion 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 (2009). The project received numerous awards including: the Getty Images Grants for Editorial Photography (2009), the Fifty Crows International Fund Award and the Magnum Foundation Caucasus Photographer Award. Pipe Dreams was exhibited at the 52nd Venice Biennale (2007), the 2009 Istanbul Biennial and the Breda’s Museum (2010) amongst others.
Since 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 Headquarters 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 Coptic minority in the post-revolution era; for this project, she received a grant from the Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund.
Luc Delahaye, Various works, 2008 – 2011
Robert Adams, Turning Back, 1999-2001
Daniel Beltrá, Spill, 2010
Mohamed Bourouissa, Périphérique, 2005-2008
Philippe Chancel, Fukushima: The Irresistible Power of Nature, 2011
Edmund Clark, Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out, 2009
Carl De Keyzer, Moments Before the Flood, 2009-2011
Rena Effendi, Still Life in the Zone, 2010
Jacqueline Hassink, Arab Domains, 2005-2006
An-My Lê, 29 Palms, 2003
Joel Sternfeld, When it Changed, 2005
Guy Tillim, Congo Democratic, 1997-2006