Last night, The Camera Store brought National Geographic Gerd Ludwig into their studio to give a talk about his long history of work documenting the world for the magazine. His images were great, but it was his words that got to me.
Ludwig talked a lot about “participatory photography.” By gaining the trust and even the friendship of his subjects through participation in their activities, he’s able to achieve an unprecedented photographs of their lives.
A great example of this was during his time at Chernobyl. The story goes that many elderly persons, who had grown up and lived in the region, returned not long after the disaster. Though the radiation was still at unsafe levels, they would rather get cancer and die in their homeland, than live a long life in an unfamiliar suburb. As Ludwig documented these returnees, they often asked him to stay for a meal, serving food they had grown themselves. Food that was likely highly irradiated. But Ludwig ate with them, because how else would he get an appropriate view into their lives?
The work he is doing was what I set out to try and do initially when I went to photojournalism school. I wanted to work for magazines, finding great feature stories and combining my words with extraordinary pictures. In the end, I’ve ended up on the artistic (and archaeological) side of things, but the work Ludwig and others like him are doing is still wholly inspirational. It makes me feel itchy to travel, explore, and delve into my own participatory photography.
If you’re interested in seeing some of the photographs shown by Ludwig during his talk, head over to his website The Long Shadow of Chernobyl.