From the earth, to the rivers, and to the ground water: in the areas in France where uranium was once mined, it will take thousands of years for the natural environment to overcome the past. With a Geiger counter in her hand, Letizia Le Fur moved through radioactively-contaminated parts of the country. Her pictures reveal the dangerous beauty of a nature where the damage perpetrated can often only be recognised by numbers.

What is the state of nature today and what does nature mean to you?
Today, nature is in a precarious state, bearing the burden of past industrial efforts such as uranium mining. For me, nature means both resilience and vulnerability, embodying a delicate balance constantly threatened by human activity. In this case, the nature I’ve photographed here will bear the scars of 50 years of extraction over the next 50 millennia.

At a first glance, your pictures look like painted, beautiful landscapes…
Through my photographs, I sought to juxtapose the apparent beauty of the landscape with the hidden environmental degradation caused by uranium mining. Using colour and composition, I seek to visually convey the duality between aesthetic appeal and ecological damage. My work always oscillates between reality and fiction: unfortunately, here behind the beautiful painted landscapes, there is reality.

How did your project come about?
This project arose from my desire to delve deeper into the history of nuclear energy in the context of France’s energy crisis, and the government’s plan to significantly expand its nuclear program. I wanted to highlight the environmental impact and the contrast between the beauty we see and the invisible pollution. The essence of this project lies in the invisible, the intangible, because photography can capture the beauty visible to the eye, but cannot show or express the actual destruction, except through the scientific tool that records the radioactivity levels.

You also put yourself in the danger zone for this project. What preparations did you make?
The preparation of the project consisted in equipping myself with a Geiger counter to measure radiation levels, and with readings from CRIIRAD, which reports all the “hot spots” in France. Then I contacted the associations that have been fighting in the field for some twenty years, to have the areas cleaned up or reported to the public. I didn’t wear any extra equipment because I didn’t think I’d be exposed to such high levels of radiation. It is prolonged or recurrent exposure that really puts the health at risk. The captions for each image indicate the location and the number of impacts per second measured by my device. I carried out systematic measurements in areas ranging from the Haute-Vienne to the Morbihan and across the Loire. While the device recorded the fluctuations, I photographed the landscapes around me. Mines de rien consists of a collection of images of nature in which man is not visible, in order to emphasize his invisible damage.

Which camera did you use for the project?
For this project, I used my preferred equipment: a Leica SL2 with a 75mm Summicron lens and a cobra flash.

What significance did colour have for your project?
Colour is always of prime importance in my work, and I always use colour to slightly twist reality. Here, it played a crucial role in my project: the orange tones symbolizing the presence of uranium, are proportional to the radiation levels measured during the shoot. This deliberate choice reinforced the visual impact and communicated the underlying environmental risk.

You scrutinise beauty in your pictures; what role does photography play in this?
I use photography as a tool to explore and question notions of beauty, revealing the underlying truths and complexities of natural landscapes. It encourages viewers to reconsider their perception of the elsewhere, the distant and the beautiful.

Even if photography hides more than it shows, how might it still contribute towards “revelation”?
Although photography can conceal as much as it reveals, it still has the power to draw attention to hidden truths and expose environmental and social injustices…. The Grande Commande Photographique (Great Photographic Commission) to 200 French photographers in 2021, led by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and initiated by the French Ministry of Culture, was a real opportunity to bring to light a multitude of subjects that had remained in the shadows, and to provide a snapshot of France at a given moment in time: the post-covid years.

Is your series also an appeal to the future?
In 50 years’ time, these pretty country lanes will certainly still look like the ones I photographed, since the solution is invisible. The worst thing to fear, however, is the populating of these radioactive areas. For the moment, the population density is very low, but what will it be like in 50, 100, 200 years? And who will pass on information about the danger?

Letizia Le Fur grew up in Seine-Saint-Denis, and lives and works today in Paris. After studying painting, she turned to a successful career in photography: she is a winner of the Prix Paris Je t’aime x Photodays (2023), the Grande Commande de la BNF (2022), the Prix Leica/Alpine (2019) and the Prix Fenêtres ouvertes de la MEP (2020). In addition to her artistic activities, she works with large brands such as Air France and Ruinart, and newspapers including AD, New York Times and Grazia. She has been a Leica Ambassador since 2019. Her Mines de rien project is on display at the BNF in Paris until June 23, in Nantes at the Centre d’Art Claude Cahun from May 16 to Aug 19, 2024, and in October at the CRP Art Center in Douchy-les-mines. Find out more about her photography on her website and Instagram page.

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