Worcester-based Hasselblad Master Bryn Griffiths told his ShootLDN audience in October 2014 how he went much further than the usual extra mile to suffer for his art. Earlier this year he travelled to Chernobyl to capture images for the latest Hasselblad Masters Book ‘EVOLVE’ – and very nearly became a victim himself.
In an exclusive interview for Hasselblad he revealed: “I was with my photo-assistant and a Russian chaperone – a former KGB officer – taking pictures in what had been a secret robot testing facility. We had Geiger counters with us because even twenty eight years later there are still ‘hot spot’ areas. It could be an acceptable 50 RADS (radiation absorbed dose) but just a few feet away it might be a very unacceptable 500 RADS.
We were just exiting the facility. I was lugging my tripod with my H5D still attached. I wasn’t looking where I was going and I managed to fall down a well. I was still holding on to the tripod as I fell but mercifully the camera contrived to get jammed on the ledge as I dropped – and it broke the fall. I was left dangling but unharmed.”
Bryn had neglected to explain to his wife exactly where he would be going to shoot his pictures for ‘EVOLVE’ – and as he has spent much of his thirty year-long professional career shooting in cosy studios in Worcester, Birmingham, London or Manchester, she had no reason to be concerned that he might end up stuck in a well in Chernobyl clinging to his Hasselblad for dear life.
“Before I left the UK I might have mentioned we could be skirting by the area” he smiles, “but I didn’t go into specifics at all!” Bryn, a multi-award-winning commercial photographer, picked up his 2014 Masters Award in the ‘Product’ category and decided to make the trip after friends had suggested he might best fulfil the Hasselblad ‘EVOLVE’ brief by shooting in a completely different way to normal.
“I do take photographs across a number of photo-disciplines, including fashion and portraits”, he explains, “but my first love is product photography. I love a studio setting; just me and my Hasselblad and bron gear and whatever the subject product happens to be.”
“I am intrigued by textures and the tiny nuances that can make the difference between ‘OK’ photography and really great photography. I like to shoot ordinary, relatively mundane products and turn them into art forms. Right now I am shooting extensively in a graphical style – as with the Condor cycle saddle and the Morgan steering wheel. But when it was suggested I do something ‘completely out of left field’ for this series I was intrigued by the challenge.”
He added: “I had the chance to go to Chernobyl to focus on images that would embrace the Hasselblad brief for the book and contrast that with my UK work. Normally I would shoot in a comfortable and beautifully lit studio with all the best equipment around me. But this shoot was all about going out on location, using natural light and a wide angle lens and photographing dereliction and decay – the exact opposite of my commercial shoots here in England.”
In the book Bryn contrasts a £12,000, state of the art, Condor bicycle with a rusted, bent wheel he found in Chernobyl, complete with a gas mask still hanging on its rim. A classic Morgan steering wheel against another corroded specimen in the former Ukrainian city; a Condor saddle and frame against an old bike carcass shot in a decomposing room; a pristine, clinical studio image of fresh paint pouring from a shiny tin – against a shot of a dilapidated stairway and a wall with decades old paint curling and falling away in its moribund final nod to an irradiated city and a shocking, devastating piece of history.
Said Bryn: “My time in Ukraine enabled me to witness for myself the aftermath of a total calamity – a terrifying and catastrophic event that has cost many lives over many years and which at the time released large quantities of radioactive particles into the atmosphere, which spread across much of the western USSR and Europe. But from this disaster the stoical Ukrainian people have themselves evolved to be fitter and wiser, with a more positive approach to life.”
The three images Bryn originally entered into the 2014 Awards had each won a national award in Australia, France and England and laid a solid foundation for his ultimate success in the Hasselblad competition.
He told Hasselblad News: “Every aspirational professional photographer should enter this prestigious programme. The whole Masters experience has been the most fantastic journey for me – from the Masters Awards Book shoot to the trip to photokina in Cologne this autumn to collect the award itself and meet my contemporaries. I was privileged to have been a finalist in the 2012 programme and when I got shortlisted again this year I was just so thrilled. I was wandering about in a daze where the email arrived telling me I had been made a Hasselblad Master. It’s the greatest achievement so far in a thirty year career – and already the accolade is having a positive effect on my business.”
More from Bryn Griffiths at wwww.bryngriffithsphotography.com