Gerd Ludwig has won the 2015 POYi Best Photo Book of the Year honors for The Long Shadow of Chernobyl, his book about the lingering environmental, social, and economic consequences of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The award, part of the Reportage Division of the POYi competition, was announced on the POYi web site.
Ludwig’s book stands out as a case study in the challenges of photo book publishing. Not only did he pursue the project at great personal risk, as he explained in this PDN video interview last year, but he struggled to find support. He undertook two separate Kickstarter campaigns to fund his travel to Chernobyl, as well as the printing and distribution of the book.
The project dates back to 1993, when Ludwig first visited Chernobyl while working on a story for National Geographic. “From that point on, I always wanted to return,” because he didn’t get as much access as he had hoped for, he told PDN last year.
He returned in 2005, after Ukraine’s so-called Orange Revolution enabled him to gain better access. He planned to return again in 2011, on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the disaster. “The general media was not interested,” he said, so he collected funds for the 2011 trip through a Kickstarter campaign.
Ludwig left for Chernobyl while his Kickstarter campaign was still underway, and while he was there, the Fukushima nuclear disaster occurred in Japan. That stimulated more contributions to Ludwig’s Kickstarter campaign–a total of $23,316, which was almost twice his goal of $12,000. After his return, he used the extra money to publish an iPad app titled The Long Shadow of Chernobyl.
With plans to produce a printed book in time for the 30th anniversary of the disaster, in 2016, Ludwig made another trip to Chernobyl in 2013 on an $8,200 grant from Kulturwerk der VG Bild/Kunst, a German artists’ rights organization.
Meanwhile, publisher Lois Lammerhuber of Lammerhuber Editions (Austria) had approached him at the Lumix Festival of Young Photojournalism in Hanover, Germany. “He said, ‘I want to do your book,’but then the distributor said to him, ‘Bad news doesn’t sell and Chernobyl is bad news,’” Ludwig recounted.
So he and Lammerhuber turned to Kickstarter once again in the spring of 2014, and managed to raise $45,571–well over twice his goal of $20,000–in pre-order book sales.
In a telephone interview today, Ludwig emphasized that the total funding he raised on Kickstarter “sounds like a high number” but only covered his expenses for the production and printing, and helped promote the project “It’s not a money maker,” Ludwig says. “If I count all my time, I definitely didn’t make money on this project. It’s a labor of love and an important piece of history that should be told. It’s a warning, a document to human hubris.”
Ludwig says he is continuing work on the project, and most recently had a story published in National Geographic about tourism inside the Chernobyl exclusion zone. “There are constant surprises” at Chernobyl, he says, and it stands as an archetype of nuclear disaster. “From Chernobyl, you can see what’s going to happen to these other areas” like Fukushima, he says.
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