Drawn in by the physical aftermath of the natural disaster, Giles was interested in documenting how the landscape had been altered – both in terms of deconstruction and the radiation. “For some time, I have been working with drones; the capabilities of them fascinate me. This includes thermology, which is used in industrial surveying (for leaks and spillages) as well as search, rescue and medicine (screening for illnesses),” he says. “When I started to think about how to approach the altered environment of the exclusion zone, it was the visual abstractness of the colours rendered by the technology which interested me, not its scientific applications.” Colour was therefore his muse as he set out to capture the day-to-day life of the towns – along with the people who have decided to return – with intense thermal imagery and a hefty dose of post-production.
A further influence and motive for Giles to photograph the area rests in the fact that he is a former Royal Marines Commando. He joined at the age of 16 after school and, a year later, served in Kurdistan at the end of the 1991 Gulf War. Camera in hand, the photographs he took are now held in London’s Imperial War Museum. “The images I shot on tour then helped me get a place at university to study photography, after I was medically discharged from the military due to injuries I’d received in Iraq,” he explains. Although a saddening and life-changing outcome, his previous experiences as a commando positively left him with an interest in the human-inflicted environment – i.e. the subject of photography. “I sustained a life-changing injury in Kurdistan because of the landscape and what was being done to it,” he says, “so I have a very personal connection to these sorts of stories.”
One story in particular is that of a waitress and cook, as seen in the Restricted Residence series. It’s a sharp, vivid and – despite its colours – momentously normal scene. But really, there’s a powerful reality hidden beneath. “The tension between the mundanity of daily life, the colours and knowing that these people are living in an environment which is potentially harmful, I find very emotive,” he says, before citing his work as a catalyst to continue the conversation around the possible long-term effects of the disaster, especially that of the psychological impact on the area’s inhabitants. “There is some medical consensus that there has been and will be more issues to do with mental health than physical health,” he adds. “The images also show human resilience, and raising questions around the wide ramifications of how people live with man-made environmental disasters.”
As a whole, this project is imperative to the work that Giles strives to produce. Rousing in its subject matter and photographic techniques used, Restricted Residence is a depiction of the photographer’s long-standing relationship between the environment and its inhabitants.
Restricted Residence by Giles Price, is published by Loose Joints. Giles will be holding a book signing at The Photographers’ Gallery on 16 January. The publication is also accompanied by an essay from environmental writer Fred Pearce.