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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Gerd Ludwig: What Would Lenin Do?

Gerd Ludwig’s “Moscow Never Sleeps” project takes advantage of the latest digital technology to show a city that has completely changed from the days when the sickle and hammer flew above the Kremlin


This Article Features Photo Zoom

gerd ludwig
A shopper scythes through bitter cold to reach a boutique on Red Square.
It wasn’t that bad this time,” I thought as I finished the 64th step leading to the front door of Gerd Ludwig’s house. I rang the doorbell, and a bearded, smiling man walked toward me—I could see him through the small panes of glass on either side of the steel entryway. I realized that the person answering the door not only is a longtime mentor, but probably always will be a true friend—the kind of person with whom, even if you haven’t spoken for years (as in our case), you still feel comfortable around, like you just saw him yesterday.

He was one of the photographers, and one of my past employers, who was an integral influence on my own career. He was supportive and critical. When I worked for him 10 years ago, we used to have weekly “arguments” over what was more or less his need to micromanage.

After a few months of what I would jokingly refer to as “torture,” I learned to listen, to say, “Okay, yes,” and to do things how he wanted them done—no matter if it was wrong. It was his way, and he believed it to be the best way. I learned that often there isn’t much point in arguing with a German.

gerd ludwig
An Angel of the Night volunteer attends to a battered homeless man near Kursk Station. In recent winters, hundreds of homeless have frozen to death on city streets.
As if proving my point, he starts our interview before I can even ask a question. “Oh,” he says, “I know we are going to talk about my night shooting, but I really want to tell you about a moment when shooting digitally was not only crucial, but the only way I would have gotten a great shot.”

He goes on to describe his 15-minute shoot deep inside the contaminated Chernobyl reactor, which he was able to do after a difficult process of obtaining permission. “Radiation levels were so high that despite the protective gear, workers were only allowed one shift of 15 minutes per day. I had to act quick to get it right,” Ludwig explains.

When he speaks, Ludwig’s words seem to be chosen deliberately. A slow and thoughtful monologue of stories comes out—he has an easy way of delivering you to the experience. He describes the Chernobyl shoot: “They led me through a number of checkpoints, where we were issued hazmat clothing—thick, transparent plastic sheaths, gas masks, high boots, Geiger counters and dosimeters. I was led through dimly lit, highly radioactive tunnels strewn with dust, wires, pieces of shredded metal, all in various stages of decay—and finally entered the dilapidated core of the reactor, the belly of the beast, so to speak. My adrenaline surged, as I knew I had such a minute amount of time to capture an impacting image of an environment that few had ever seen and that I might never be able to access again. Halfway through our allotted time, our Geiger counters and dosimeters started beeping, an eerie concert reminding us that our time was soon up.
The concrete dust was filling the air,” continues Ludwig. “It would have been a huge challenge changing a roll of film in that situation. I would have wasted precious time, and there would have been issues with scratches and dust specks.
“The concrete dust was filling the air,” continues Ludwig. “It would have been a huge challenge changing a roll of film in that situation. I would have wasted precious time, and there would have been issues with scratches and dust specks.”

 

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