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30+ years later: Haunting pictures of Chernobyl in infrared photography

Photographer Vladimir Migutin has given a new meaning to the tragedy with his pictures, using infra-red filters.

Updated: Feb 27, 2018 18:28:42

By Kabir Singh Bhandari

The monumental trail in Chernobyl with the evacuated village names by the side. (Vladimir Migutin)

It’s counted among the worst tragedies of the modern world, the images of death and deprivation etched in our memories for posterity. Now, almost three decades after the world woke up to the disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine’s Pripyat, photographer Vladimir Migutin has given a new meaning to the tragedy with his pictures, using infra-red filters.

Toys in the infant school of Pripyat. ( Vladimir Migutin )

Explaining the technique, Migutin says, “The visible spectrum (normal photos) consists of wavelengths between 400 and 700 nanometers. Infrared, or near-infrared-photography more precisely, is about wavelengths higher than 590nm. At these wavelengths, the colours are totally different from those in the visible spectrum. For example, my black bag will turn blue with black stripes when photographed using infra-red filters. The colors change dramatically as they are dependent on the material (and not the color). This is why human hair or foliage turns blue or white-snow.”

This effect can be seen in the photo of Simon - a human-friendly fox, who can be seen approaching groups in the exclusion zone, asking for food.

Simon - a human-friendly fox, who often approaches groups in the exclusion zone, asking for food. ( Vladimir Migutin )

Migutin, who was born in 1986, the same year when the Chernobyl tragedy took place, adds, “A raw infrared shot comes coloured in red-white-black, with different contrasts, and is over-sharpened by default. When it’s processed with white balance changes, the hues and clarity changes, giving your pictures a surreal feel every photographer dreams of achieving.”

But why opt for infra red? “Passion to non-standard photography styles and the fact that I can never know how the image would be in its final version has always attracted me to this technique. I have an intuitive knowledge of what to do (while shooting in infrared), but it remains unclear until I process it on the computer. This technique is not fully explored, and each time I discover something new for myself. When shooting Infrared, the result is always surreal, and the overall feeling is different from ‘normal’ photos. I wanted to show this place in a different mood,” he says.

The iconic 26m Ferris wheel in Pripyat’s amusement park. ( Vladimir Migutin )

Classroom in the school of Pripyat. ( Vladimir Migutin )

A trolleybus in one of Chernobyl’s scrapyards. ( Vladimir Migutin )

Migutin was 5 years old when his family left the Soviet Union. “I have fond memories of my early childhood, and I always wanted to visit some places in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, located around 440 km from Chernobyl. Then the idea to visit Chernobyl came to my mind,” says he.

So how does one apply this effect to their photographs and what is the technique he used?

“Open your camera and remove the hot-mirror filter (the one that blocks the IR and UV wavelengths). This will turn your camera into a ‘full-spectrum’ camera. After this, put IR-Pass and UV-Pass filters in front of the lens. You will need some practice to process the pictures after this,” says Migutin.

You can follow Vladimir on Facebook and Instagram to see his other works.

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