This series examines the photographers who are exhibiting at the Leica Galerie at photokina 2014. Today, we focus on Gerd Ludwig whose haunting images of Chernobyl won him the 2014 Dr. Erich Salomon Prize. This year, “The Long Shadow of Chernobyl” photo book was published in three languages (including an essay by Michail Gorbachev).
Gerd Ludwig was born in Alsfeld in 1947. He studied photography with Otto Steinert at the Folkwangschule in Essen. In 1972, he co-founded VISUM, the first photography agency in Germany. He has lived in the United States since 1984.
Twenty-eight years ago, on April 26, 1986, a major catastrophe occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant near the town of Prypjat, Ukraine. Gerd Ludwig first went there in 1993, assigned by National Geographic to photograph environmental damage in the former Soviet Union. In 2005, he returned for a number of weeks to the no-go zones and to the areas in Ukraine and Belarus affected by the radioactive fallout. He was the first western photographer to get permission to go into the contaminated reactor. In the spring of 2011, and in September 2013, Ludwig returned to Chernobyl. During nine visits totalling over four months, he took pictures on site and in the surrounding area. The fate of the people is always at the forefront of his work. “As engaged photographers,” says Ludwig, “we often report about human tragedies in the face of disaster, and take our cameras to uncharted areas with the understanding that our explorations are not without personal risk. We do this out of a deep commitment to important stories told on behalf of otherwise voiceless victims.”
Q: What image is your favorite in this gallery and why?
A: I do not have a favorite photograph from this project. Each photograph has its specific place in the exhibit. Different photographs resonate with me at different times. Someone once asked Picasso a similar question. He responded by saying that this was like asking someone to name his or her favorite finger…
Q: What, if anything, do you hope the viewer sees or gains when looking at these images?
A: I want the Chernobyl photo project to stand as a complete document of this man-made disaster – to remember the countless victims of Chernobyl, and to warn future generations of the deadly consequences of human hubris. At the core of my photographs are the people who continue to suffer this tragedy. I am driven by the duty to act in the name of these silent victims, to give them a voice with these photographs. They let me into their lives and allowed me to expose their suffering solely in the hope that future tragedies like Chernobyl may be prevented.
Q: What does winning the 2014 Dr. Erich Salomon Award mean to you?
A: I am humbled to be included in a select group of people whose work I deeply admire and respect.  At the same time, I see the award as a validation of issue-driven photography. It makes me feel an obligation to continue taking photographs that touch the soul and broaden the mind.
Thank you for your time, Gerd!
For more information about “LEICA CAMERA – DAS WESENTLICHE” events, lectures, live Twitter chats, and book signings taking place during photokina 2014, click here.
– Leica Internet Team
Ask Gerd questions about his images and his time photographing Chernobyl on Friday, September 19, from 3-4pm CEST during our live Twitter chat with him using #LeicaChat. See the full schedule of Leica’s photokina Twitter chats here
To learn more about Gerd and view more of his images, visit his website. For more about his project, The Long Shadow of Chernobyl, visit the project website, Facebook page, download the iPad app or purchase the photo book. You can also connect with Gerd on Facebook or see him in person at The Art of Storytelling: Documentary Photography Workshop or the Digital Vision in Low Light Lecture at the PDN PhotoPlus Expo. He also has stories coming out in the next few months in both “National Geographic Magazine” and “National Geographic Deutschland.”