Photos by Jan Smith

Nuclear Wastelands is a traveling international photography exhibition that displays images of the abandoned towns and cities around Chernobyl and Fukushima. It encompasses three bodies of work (Atom’s Wake, Cesium Tours, and Igrushka) developed by Jan Smith. Collectively these works raise public awareness about the risks of nuclear energy sources, particularly near urban centres. They also foster empathy and awareness regarding the plight of all persons exposed to radiation by nuclear accidents, nuclear testing, and atomic bombs.

The images explore personal details and the history of the abandoned spaces. They eschew the news story, and take us to the core of this destruction—photographs of the interiors of people’s homes, which speak of permanence and the right of belonging. They communicate with viewers in ways that traditional media photography does not.

Each photograph is paired with written narratives detailing the history of individual buildings and the contents left behind in them. Interview excerpts with former residents add a tone of intimacy that makes the viewer feel as if he had known each place for a very long time, and yet is just discovering it.


Jan’s images are a carefully crafted and composed exploration of modern ruins. His work investigates the historical significance of these spaces, and preserves the story of their demise. Jan is the recipient of numerous photography prizes, including multiple awards from the International Photographers Awards (IPA) and PDN-One Life in 2010. His work in the Fukushima and Chernobyl nuclear evacuation zones earned him membership in the Atomic Photographers Guild. He is exhibited internationally, including the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City, and the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro. Mexican, he lives and works in Mexico City and Sao Paulo.

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