Imaging a Shattering Earth: Contemporary Photography and the Environmental Debate
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David McMillan
Born in Dundee, UK, in 1945
Resides in Winnipeg, MB

David McMillan, originally from Dundee, Scotland, graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1973, receiving an M.F.A. degree in painting. In 1973, McMillan began working in the School of Art at the University of Manitoba, where he taught painting and drawing. However, in his second year, he had the opportunity to start a photography program and has taught photography ever since.

In 1979, McMillan discovered his photographic passion which primarily deals with the relationship between culture and nature. McMillan first came across this in Banff, Alberta, where he photographed the first work that truly meant something to him. Then, in 1994, he began going to Chernobyl, which seemed like the perfect location for his subject of interest. McMillan has visited Chernobyl a total of ten times and will be returning for his 11th visit in fall 2005.

McMillan has an impressive track record including: twenty-two solo exhibitions, eight two-person exhibitions, thirty-five group exhibitions, and approximately thirty publications reproducing his work. He has received several grants and awards including Manitoba Arts Council Visual Arts “A” Grants (2004, 2002, 1996, 1994), Canada Council Established Artist Grants (2001, 1998), and The Banff Centre’s Barbara Spohr Award.

Throughout his career, he has come into contact with the work of many influential photographers. Some of these artistic influences include Eugene Atget, Lee Friedlander, and Stephen Shore. He also greatly valued John Szarkowski’s writing on photography.

Sources: David McMillan, e-mail to author, 2 October 2005.

Pictures in Gallery


Works Description

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is a series of color photographs taken by David McMillan. McMillan has been traveling to Chernobyl and Pripyat, Ukraine, since 1994, documenting the changes in the buildings and the landscape through photography. In his photographs McMillan shows the changes and decay of the towns, as a result of the nuclear reactor meltdown that occurred there in April 1986. The artist was first attracted to Chernobyl in 1994, after reading a magazine article that sparked his interest in the area and the events that had occurred there.

“The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone” is a thirty-kilometer area surrounding the nuclear plant and the worker’s quarters in nearby Pripyat. It is protected and secured by natural and man-made borders. It was the main region to be evacuated following the accident and is the most radioactively contaminated area. Scientists estimate that the site will remain contaminated for the next 24,000 years.

In his collection of photographs of the zone, which is quite a large compilation, McMillan conveys the eeriness and unsettling feeling of the situation, all the while, still showing a beauty and serenity to the land. The artist believes in letting the photographs speak for themselves. These include: deteriorating photos of Lenin, strewn classrooms, hospitals and homes, half sunken, buried, and rusted automobiles and boats, as well as representations of the landscape becoming overrun by nature and the return of flora. The photographs encompass a slow deterioration of a land that was once unmistakably beautiful and plentiful, but is now a radioactive toxic waste zone, silently threatening all who have and will come to encounter it.

Selected Bibliography

“Chernobyl Frozen in Time.” South China Morning Post, 10 Sept. 1998, Arts: 19.

“Fifteen Years after the Chernobyl Accident: Lessons Learned.” International Atomic Energy Agency. 18-20 April 2001. Weblink.

Medvedev, Zhores. The Legacy of Chernobyl. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1990.

Todkill, Anne Marie. “Overexposure: The Chernobyl photographs of David McMillan.” Canadian Medical Association Journal. 29 May 2001. Weblink.