In the event of disaster, what would you save? It's photos for a lot of people. But would you run back into a building of dubious structure to capture an image? Brum-based urban photographer Andrew Coogan would. In fact he's made it through windows, past security guards, and all the way to the centre of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone to record history. Here is but a fraction of what he's seen.
The Pripyat Amusement Park was scheduled to open on May 1, 1986 but when Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station's fourth reactor suffered a catastrophic power surge five days earlier, the fairground's static future was decided. Captured by Andrew as part of his four days in the Exclusion Zone, he explains "the idea that the Ferris wheel was all ready to go but never even had the chance to get started is haunting — no one had any idea what was about to happen when the park was being finished".
Another aspect of the unrestricted access Andrew was granted that has stuck with him is the harrowing number of gas masks left behind at a local school he visited. "Distributed for use in the event of war between East and West, I wonder about the children's memories of this place. Are they alive today? Are they okay?" Armed with a Geiger counter, hard hat and steel-capped boots, the biggest immediate danger Andrew felt was the collapse of floors or ceilings which have received no maintenance for thirty years and cannot be demolished due to the radioactive material which has settled in the structures.
In a different corner of Europe (which Andrew is not for revealing), the picture gatherer found his way into the control room of an old power plant (above), which ceased operations more than five years previously. Lights on, phones plugged in and document wallets open on desks, photographing the scene, Andrew felt "like everyone had simply gone to lunch and was about to walk straight back in".
At an abandoned care home — after a night camping out to be ready for best light — Andrew came across the room pictured, which fascinates him because he will never know why the televisions were discarded. No stranger to taking extraordinary steps for a shot, he's had run-ins with the French, British and German police, as well as the Belgian Military variety, including at an abandoned police station. Fortunately the Police Nationale saw the irony and let Andrew go on his way without too much delay.
Captured on his second visit to this decaying chateaux (which Andrew eventually confirmed as being within Belgium's borders), the derelict property is said to have been used by the Germans during WWII. Synonymous with urban exploring, the property is set for demolition this year, but is now immortalised by Andrew's lens.
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