Author Archives: tonglam

After Modernism

Let’s take a break from Cold War ruins and check out these abandoned factories from the post-socialist era.

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Life Goes On

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is hardly a dead zone or time capsule. For these self-settlers who have moved back to their villages inside the zone illegally, life has to go on. Still, aside from their contaminated farmlands, memories of a better time are what they really cherished.

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Here and Now

Oftentimes, after I’ve posted an image on social media, people would ask me about its location, even though they did not necessarily have the desire to go there. Somehow, I suspect that that curiorsity is driven by our desire to place a scene to a specific place and therefore insulate it from “our” world. But the truth is that these scenes are all coming from a place called the Planet Earth. My images of ruins and ruination may have rendered certain things more visible, but they are not about elsewhere.

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Film Barn

A film barn in southern Ontario

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Foxy and Radioactive

On that fateful morning of April 26, 1986, the supposedly state-of-the art Reactor 4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant exploded during an experiment, releasing 400 times as much radiation material into the environment as that of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings. The accident ultimately led to the downfall the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, but not necessarily for the better. Today, the fallout of Chernobyl, nuclear or otherwise, continues to be felt in the region and beyond. Meanwhile, more than three decades after the accident, this cute little fox is posing in front of my camera with Reactor 4 and then the unfinished Reactor 5 as the backdrop. He seems to be indicting us for our cancerous existence, and that our history is all about destruction, debris, and incompleteness.

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History’s Sinkhole

This sinkhole has swallowed its own history. All we know is that the drilling rig and equipment used by Soviet engineers collapsed as this giant sinkhole emerged in around 1971 or perhaps even as early as the 1950s. It is also unclear whether the engineers set the natural gas crater on fire intentionally, hoping that would exhaust all the natural gas in a few weeks, or that the fire started mysteriously in later years. In any case, this crater has been on fire for almost half of a century. Nicknamed the Door to Hell, the burning crater in Darvaza, Turkmenistan actually looks extraterrestrial at night. Depending on the season, hundreds of birds may sing and dance around the crater before dawn, waiting for their turn to “dive.” These little “angels of history” will not be able to redeem the irreversible destruction that we have inflicted on the planet, but it is surely a heavenly scene in an otherwise hellish landscape.

 

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Postsocialism without Shores

The May 9 Victory Day parades in the former Soviet republics are strong reminders that many aspects of WWII have been overlooked in Western historiography. In Kazakhstan alone, for example, nearly 2 millions of Kazakhs participated in the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union, defending Moscow and resisting Nazi Germany and its allies. And over 600,000 Kazakhs lost their lives in the process. Yet, those spontaneously organized parades taking place along with the official ones across Kazakhstan seem to point to an even more complex phenomena that demands some attention. Started only a few years ago, this growing popular movement is not so much about anti-fascism or just commemorating the loss. Rather, there is a strong sense of nostalgia that seems to respond to the unease caused by neoliberalism, globalization, corruption, and the failure of democracy. Among other things, these powerful scenes of people holding photos of their ancestors who died in the war seem to reveal a desire for some stable historical references at a moment of profound anxiety and uncertainty. Therefore, in some basic ways at least, isn’t this emerging phenomena not connected to the rise of similar discontents in many liberal democracies today? It remains to be seen how this politics of unease will unfold in the coming years.

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The Final Cut

Two years ago, the National Gallery of Canada, the Globe and Mail, and the Archive of Modern Conflict staged an exhibition called Cutline to interrogate the question of changing media technology, photojournalism, and archive in the (pre)digital age. Since then the Globe and Mail, Canada’s largest national newspaper, has moved to a new location within Toronto as planned. Its old facility, along with the public installation of the exhibition, has been demolished in order to make room for residential and commercial developments. Like other media outlets, the Globe and Mail has also long ceased to use film for image gathering. The final cutting down of its massive former Press Hall built in and for the analog era was therefore a profoundly symbolic moment.

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The Higher Order of Things

Architectural domes in Bulgaria and Cuba! Who says that spirituality does not exist in the Communist world?

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Bubble World

Are we living in a bubble world? Bangalore, India seems to have the answer.

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