Photos of Nuclear Landscapes That Are Meant to Disorient
Every year, the Nobel Peace Center selects a photographer to complete a body of work about the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Last year, in honor of the 2017 laureate, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, the committee selected Sim Chi Yin, a Singaporean photographer based in Beijing, to create images for an exhibition entitled “Ban the Bomb.”
She decided to create a series of anonymized diptychs of nuclear test sites along the border between China and North Korea, and of other nuclear landscapes in the American West. She spent two months travelling to these places and capturing images, using cameras and a drone. “My intention was to get people to ask questions about what they were looking at, and to intentionally confuse them about which country these pictures were taken in,” she said.
In the resulting series, “Fallout,” Sim challenges the post-Cold War understanding of nuclear warfare as merely a relic of the past; she wants viewers to understand the ways that we are still grappling with nuclear issues today. Across six U.S. states, Sim photographed decommissioned facilities of Cold War-era nuclear infrastructure, places that are now mainly used as museums for educational purposes and tours. Along the China-North Korea border, she consulted nuclear academics and used information gleaned from satellite maps of North Korea’s munitions bases and nuclear test sites to plot her route. Though the two nations have different relationships to the idea of nuclear war, it’s hard to tell, in the resulting photographs, which sites belong to which place. “I drove along the border working with this idea of being on the outside trying to look in, and metaphorically trying to see what I couldn’t see,” she said.
By juxtaposing these historic and contemporary nuclear landscapes, Sim Chi Yin challenges the viewer. The suspension of a sense of place, Sim argues, is an opportunity for the viewer to suspend his or her moral judgment and to question preconceived ideas. “Who gets to decide which country has too many warheads?” she wants the viewers of her photographs to ask. “Who gets to call who a rogue state?”
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May 16, 2018 at 04:20PM