unknownfields

We arrived at dusk. The empty, salinated sands of this landscape used to be a thriving sea. Now, mere puddles of water are interspersed with artifacts of old and new - bleached white seashells crunched under our feet, small bones lay in the sun and piles of plastic refuse lay in what is a large playground for many children. Rusting boats were scattered about, waiting for the sea to return.

I felt like I had come across another version of the Salton Sea, created under different conditions and different motives, a Soviet project of prosperity gone awry.

Instant photo taken at the Aral Sea while on the Unknown Fields trip.

Upon leaving the Chernobyl 30-kilometer Exclusion Zone, our bus drove through this portal monitor, which contains a sensitive array of radiation detectors to detect any radioactive contamination we may have picked up along the way. I took this instant photograph of yet another point of transition towards the next part of our journey.

Immediately after arriving inside the 30-kilometer Chernoby Exclusion Zone, we ate lunch at the canteen. Many of us were dressed in red coveralls, much to the delight of the other workers. Fingers were pointed at us, mouths were agape with laughter, mobile phones made our pictures. We were an anomaly inside a zone of anomalies.

All food served at the canteen is brought in from the outside. Inside the building are PCMs - or personnel contamination monitors. These machines feature sensitive arrays of radiation detectors and are designed to detect radioactive contamination on a person’s body. Before leaving the 30-kilometer Exclusion Zone, we were required to pass a PCM scan - and everyone did.

It was 3 am in the middle of Kazakhstan. Our bus was speeding down roads of various paved quality, sometimes nearly coming to a complete stop to make a sharp turn.

Most of us were exhausted, and the gentle voice of Carl Sagan describing the endless bounds of the universe kept soothing me to sleep, and then waking me again a short while later.

We stopped for a ritualistic pee break, and the bright headlights of the bus shining into the night illuminated our immediate surrounding of dusty piles of dirt and the occasional truck in the distance. Liam Young agreed to pose for me in the beams of the bus, and I made this photograph of him.

While waiting for the Zenit-2 / Spektr-R rocket launch at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, we met a scientist who worked on the Spektr-R radiotelescope, which was in development for 30+ years.

He very excited about the launch and gave our group a short lesson of how the radiotelescope operates - it works in tandem with earth-based telescopes! After the launch finished, I asked him if I could make his photograph. I made two instant photos - one for me, one for him. 

Videos of the rocket launch: 

http://vimeo.com/26906714
 (taken by me)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=km45CzGApa8 (NASA’s video)