Photographer Risked Radiation to Shoot Soviet Testing Sites

Nadav Kander's haunting images show the enduring devastation.

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the-polygon-nuclear-test-site-after-the-event-kazakhstan-2011
Nadav Kander, The Polygon Nuclear Test Site (After the Event), Kazakhstan (2011)
Photo courtesy of Flowers Gallery.
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Nadav Kander, The Arial Sea I (Officer's Housing), Kazakhstan (2011)
Photo courtesy of Flowers Gallery.
piozersk-XIV-I-was-once-told-she-held-an-oar-kazakhstan-2011
Nadav Kander, Piozersk XIV (I was once told she held an oar), Kazakhstan (2011)
Photo courtesy of Flowers Gallery.
kurchatov-V-heating-plant-kazakhstan-2011
Nadav Kander, Kurchatoc V (Heading Plant), Kazakhstan (2011)
Photo courtesy of Flowers Gallery.
kurchatov-IV-telephone-exchange-kazakhstan-2011
Kurchatov IV (Telephone Exchange), Kazakhstan (2011)
Photo courtesy of Flowers Gallery.
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Nadav Kander, Kurchatov III (Technical Area), Kazakhstan (2011)
Photo courtesy of Flower Gallery.

Israeli-born, London-based photographer Nadav Kander, takes us into the desolate world of post-Soviet missile and nuclear testing sites—secret landscapes which are still closed to outsiders—in his new photographic series, “Dust.”

Armed with his camera, Kander, who wore white overalls and a Geiger counter on his belt to measure radiation, captured the abandoned dwellings in two areas. The first, in northeastern Kazakhstan, was the town Kurchatov and the nearby former nuclear testing site Polygon. Unbeknownst to the public, Russians detonated hundreds of atomic bombs at Polygon between 1948 until the end of its program in 1989, reports the New York Times. Kander was arrested twice when he visited the area, and has thus relinquished plans to visit a third time. The second city Kander visited, Priozersk, was used as a long-distance missile testing ground during the Cold War.

Haunting images of the cities’ landscapes show abandoned buildings and infrastructure—physical reminders of the intangible devastation that occurred at these sites.

The artist tells the Times: “I think I find great nourishment in choosing things that are possibly uncomfortable, thought-provoking or quieting and then photographing them in a quiet, beautiful, way. It’s almost like putting mustard with chocolate cake. It’s a bit uncomfortable, but interesting.”

Kander titled this series after a line in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land: “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”

Nadav Kander’s “Dust” is on view at London’s Flowers Gallery through October 11.


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