Chernobyl will always evoke a sort of apocalypse, since the accident that took place on April 26, 1986, is considered the most egregious technological disaster of the twentieth century. More than three decades have passed since that tragic day, but its consequences will forever be part of the everyday life of the surrounding areas in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia.
Raúl Ortega Ayala, guided by his own interest in the detritus of history, collective memory, and social amnesia, has created a film and a series of large-scale photographs depicting the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. These works grew out of several visits to the area, and to the ghost city of Prypiat, between 2013 and 2017. Built-in the 1970s, evacuated in 1986, and opened to tourism by the Ukrainian government in 2011, Prypiat has since been visited by small groups of tourists with a certain taste for the extreme. After the television series Chernobyl aired in 2019, Prypiat became a tourist magnet, drawing over 100,000visitors that year—a number that rivals the almost 200,000 people who had been cleared out from the exclusion zone.
“The Zone (2013–20)” is a film that approaches the city of Prypiat by picking its way through the rubble of the urban landscape, evoking the memories of the people who once lived there.
Another part of “The Zone” is a series of photographs titled Field-notes, which spotlights the details of some of the decaying buildings, Soviet paraphernalia, and objects that were left behind after the exhaustive cleaning carried out by the sanitation teams.