April 26, 1986: Block N° 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power station explodes. A 30 kilometre zone around the reactor is evacuated, including Pripiat, the city built to house the power station’s workforce. To rehouse the population, the Soviet government decided to build a new town 60 kilometres away: Slavoutich. Like Pripiat, Slavoutich is constructed as a model city: situated in the middle of a forest, its 22 000 inhabitants live in detached houses with private gardens or in large flats. The streets are clean, the shops are inexpensive. There are no power cuts or heating shortages. A television station broadcasts daily bulletins concerning the power station. Each soviet republic had a hand in building a neighbourhood in this new city. As construction reached completion, the authorities discovered that this region is also contaminated. December 2001: The Cherbobyl power station is closed definitely. Of the 12 000 workers, 9000 will be made redundant..
Slavutich, a poisoned city
A seemingly endless corridor serves as an introduction to 4/7: Slavutich, a series of photographs by Guillaume Herbaut. Its industrial coldness is synonymous with violence. It is the corridor in Chernobyl’s railway station that links the deserted location of the nuclear accident to Slavutich, the new city that is home to the thousands who work at containing the disaster, over twenty years after the event.
Since 2001, Guillaume Herbaut has laid the basis of a new photojournalism, capturing the invisible and the tragic, on the frontier between documentary photography and a more conceptual approach, best illustrated by the 7/7 collection, a long-scheduled and methodically produced body of work. 4/7: Slavutich is the fourth instalment of the series.
Guillaume Herbaut’s subjectivity serves to express a critical point of view of the world and its darker regions from intimate experience, through news in brief, to the historical event.
In 4/7: Slavutich, mankind’s relation to nature provides the argument of the narrative, through eighteen shots of daily life in a city engendered by technological catastrophe. Its inhabitants live with the permanent threat of a poisoned natural environment. In between shots of the city and its inhabitants faced with an invisible danger, the forest of pine trees appears and reappears much as the interiors are haunted by vegetable life, either symbolically in the wall-paper designs, or literally with potted plants. Emphasising the antagonism between the cult of remembrance and the nuclear propaganda that provides the city’s ideological framework, Guillaume Herbaut throws light on the failure of mankind’s naive faith in technological progress and inability to question itself.