When I have conversations about Visit Sunny Chernobyl, I’m frequently asked whether there will be pictures. This question usually comes right after the question about just where I went in the first place.
I enjoy the where-I-went question a lot more, perhaps because it’s a question I can answer more satisfyingly. And the difficulty of figuring out what places belong on a list of the “world’s most polluted” is a major theme of the book. So I like to talk about it. Best of all, people soon start suggesting destinations, or trying to guess at mine, which shifts the discussion from “I’m telling you about my book” to “we’re coming up with ideas,” which is much the better conversation for people with manners.
I often end up feeling like a chump, though, for not having visited any of the excellent places people suggest. Just yesterday, for example, Matt Taibbi suggested Norilsk. Which is a first rate suggestion. And no, I have not been to Norislk. Thanks for reminding me.
But back to the pictures. No. There aren’t any pictures in the book. Or at least, not any photographs. It’s just words. The pictures are in your mind.
Which is not to say I didn’t take any photographs. I took thousands. And I have elaborate plans to post a series of excellent slide shows culled from those photos, as part of my master plan to attract attention to this book. (Which you can PRE-ORDER RIGHT NOW by the way.)
But there’s always some disappointment when I disabuse someone of their hopes for pictures in the book. And I never feel sufficiently able to make them understand why it’s so clear to me that there shouldn’t be.
There are various reasons. Some of them have to do with committing to one art form or another, instead of (for once in my life) trying to do two or three things all at once.
And then there’s the question of whether photographs even look good in a book. When’s the last time, when you think about it, that you enjoyed the photographs in a book? They’re either muddy little grey puddles of ink, or gathered into a ghetto of glossy pages in the middle of the volume. In magazines, photographs work great. But in books full of prose… not so much.
But the main reason that there are no pictures in Visit Sunny Chernobyl is that other pollution tourists have already done much, much better than I ever could. Astoundingly better. So the best thing, it seems to me, is just to cede the field.
What I’m trying to say is that Edward Burtynsky is my hero.