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Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Zsofi Bohm: Growing up in Uranium City




Next up from Documentary Photography at Cardiff, which is where I teach, is Zsofi Bohm.

In the UK we have an election coming up in which the ruling Conservative Party are guaranteed to cut wages, kill free health care, destroy housing and make education even more unaffordable. 

They will make you poor, they will make your children poor, they will make your parents poor. Unless you're incredibly rich and then you'll get richer on the cries of other people's suffering. Who could possibly vote for them? 

It's a similar question that Zsofi asks about the fantastically named Uranium City, a city where Zsofi grew up. It used to be the centre of Hungary's uranium industry, a model town, a place where the workers were models of the modern socialist state. It was also a town that would kill its inhabitants, a toxic city that (like the Conservative Party) would poison you from within... enough, this is what Zsofi has to say about it.





URANIUM CITY (2017)

Zsofi Bohm

In Hungary, uranium mining began in the 1950s in the Mecsek Hills, and lasted almost fifty years. The aim was to support the supply of the country's first atomic plant and to contribute to the Soviet Union’s ambition of becoming a nuclear superpower.

An entire modern district was built for those who worked in the mine industry, which still today is called Uranium City. The quality of life, regardless of the physically challenging work, was promising in comparison with that of the average citizen of the Eastern Bloc. The tallest building in Uranium City is a 17-storey block of flats. My grandparents live on the 9th floor.






When I was 15 I moved in to the 9th floor to live with my grandparents. I instantly knew there was something strange about the place. The people were so proud and acted like they were real aristocrats. But to the 15-year-old me, it was obvious this wasn’t the case. It was also obvious that this was a people living in denial. The industry was dying, the town was dying, and because of the radioactivity, the people were dying too. 




This death continued after the fall of communism in 1989,  when uranium mining was abruptly discontinued because of the high production costs. This created serious economic problems for the area and a rise in unemployment. In addition to the financial hardships there were also serious health problems for those that worked in the mine, due to radiation contamination; many died young from lung cancer. 




However, there is a common denial of radioactivity amongst the inhabitants, including my own grandparents. The denial extends to medical records. There seems to be an increased cancer risk because of the uranium mining, but because the medical records are not open to scrutiny, nobody knows. So people stay ignorant about the real health risks. They like it that way. 

The people of Uranium City have always been grateful to the former USSR and its system. The nuclear industry not only pulled them out of financial insecurity, but also elevated their social status into a privileged and respected position. Being a uranium miner and living in Uranium City was prestigious and something to be proud of.





See more of Zsofi's work here

And contact her here: zsofibohm@gmail.com


Follow Documentary Photography's 3rd Years at Two Eyes Serve a Movement on Instagram here

And see their work on show opening 16th June at Seen Fifteen Gallery, Peckham. We'd love to see you there so come and say hello!

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