Felix Forest’s ‘Chernobyl’ is a haunting realisation of Forest’s teenage dream to visit the eroded, decayed city; built, then abandoned after the world’s worst nuclear disaster. Shot last May after a last minute opportunity arose when Forest was working in Paris, his visit was as fragile as the political situation at the time, the Ukrainian war raging on and Kiev literally up in flames.
The clarity with which Forest’s experience of ‘Chernobyl’ is documented, the delicately balanced compositions and the sense of order in the symmetry imbues the devastation with an unexpected calm. The perspective of Forest’s work is vast yet intimate, dramatic yet serene, a poetic balance when all images are viewed together. The intimacy of the almost domestic scale crops, where one feels that someone has just left the room, is complemented with the comprehension of the almost 30 year abandonment in the broader perspectives of the public spaces. There is a crisp reality, a heartbreakingly beautiful tactility, yet there is a sense of composure to the abandonment. Vivid greenery creeps in, a peripheral acknowledgment of hope. The palette of tranquil mossy greens with harsh slaps of red highlight the dichotomy of emotional experience.
Forest says, “My focus was always on taking photograph in the exclusion zones and I was so focused before I got there that I forgot about the experience side of the journey. It soon caught up with me. On our way to Chernobyl, there were a lot of militias and military road blockages and as soon as we arrived a thunderstorm started… The ambiance was so dramatic and infectious, I was the only ‘tourist’ in the zone as the political climate wouldn’t have been appealing to most people. My guide (you have to get permits through the Chernobyl agency to go there and are constantly escorted by a guide and watched by militaries) has been working in Chernobyl for 14 years, first as a worker and then as a guide. His knowledge of the zone was very extensive and we had planned our expedition as precisely as possible to minimise my exposure to radiation.”
The emotional weight of Forest’s ‘Chernobyl’ is hard to take, yet the experience of such delicate, considered beauty in the abandonment resonates deep within.