What Remains: Robert Polidori
“Photography can only represent the present. Once photographed, the subject becomes part of the past.” – Berenice Abbott
How do you capture the soul of a place on film? How do you even know it when you see it? Does the soul remain after the life of a place has gone, or does a new soul emerge to take it’s place? These are some of the questions I try to answer when I look at the haunting images by Canadian photographer Robert Polidori. A two-time winner of the Alfred Eisenstaedt Award for Magazine Photography he is primarily known for his architectural studies, such as the restoration of Versailles and the construction of the Getty. He has also captured fascinating photo essays on Pripyat & Chernobyl, Havana and New Orleans following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, for which he was sharply criticized and called an “immoral opportunist.” However, as Polidori says “I didn’t produce that storm. It wasn’t my doing. I rather that there be a record of it than no record.” He seems to approach much of his work with a deep sense of reverence, of respect for not only the places he photographs, but also the lives that have been lost or disrupted. He also allows himself to be affected by the experiences on a very profound level. In an interview with journalist Natalia Gnecco, Polidori talked about how deeply photographing Chernobyl affected him. “Before I went to Pripyat,” he said, “I was half believer, and by the time I left Chernobyl I was completely atheist. I lost all my faith in God because I just realized that we are completely alone.” I wonder, after reading that interview, if the soul of a place, and, by extension, the photographs, are enough to destroy one’s faith, are different photographs powerful enough to restore it?