Radiant Ecologies: The Biopolitics of Animal Photography in Exclusion Zones

  • Paromita Patranobish Assistant Professor, Department of English, Mount Carmel College (Autonomous), Bangalore, India


This article wishes to examine photographic representations of animal life in the postdisaster
landscapes of Chernobyl and Fukushima. It seeks to articulate how documentary and
investigative modes employed by a visual repertoire developed in relation to these disaster zones,
intersect with a biopolitical imaginary, which, by creating an ontological collapse and interchangeability
between radioactive spaces and nonhuman materialities – including the matter of animal lives– enacts
an exclusionary paradigm that is rooted in speciesist violence. A common trope used to frame animals
in these sites of nuclear disaster is that of resilience and rewilding. This framing has been deployed in
recent times by scientific analyses (James Smith, Nick Beresford et. al., 2019, 2005; Lyons et. al., 2020)
as well as popular discourses to depict animals, particularly wildlife, as prolific and invasive, governed
by an inhuman excess that allows them to thrive in environments otherwise hostile to humans. This
narrative of an alien affinity towards forms of toxicity, while positioning animals on a common spectrum
of danger and alterity in which they share attributes of anarchic and uncontained growth, dispersal, and
mutation with nuclear waste and the action of radioactivity, simultaneously obscures other narratives
of precarity and harm accruing to nonhuman lives and habitats through their proximity to nuclear
pollution, and pollution's ties with anthropogenic, military-industrial regimes. (Sohtome et. al., 2014;
Itoh 2018). Drawing on recent work by Elaine Gan, Anna Tsing, and Kate Brown, my paper explores the
figuration of animals in disaster zone imagery in relation to questions of ruination, haunting, decay, and
waste as constituting what Tsing calls "disturbance regimes." (2015) The nexus of toxic exposures and
ecocidal effects of nuclearization of environments not only impinges on existing ecological relations,
altering and corroding these, but also enforces new and saturated chemical ecologies. Through a close
reading of the works of Julia Oldham, Yasusuke Ota, and Pierpaolo Mittica, my article engages with the
implicit dialogue between such radioactive ecologies in post-disaster sites in the wake of evacuation and
abandonment, and the ways in which visual media, particularly photography, participate in these
ecological (dis)arrangements by encoding animal life and its survival in the post-human aftermath of
human departure, within various symbolic and semantic codes, codes whose stability is further
challenged and complicated by what Daniel Burkner (2015) identifies as the material politics of
photographing radioactive spaces.

How to Cite
PATRANOBISH, Paromita. Radiant Ecologies: The Biopolitics of Animal Photography in Exclusion Zones. Global Journal of Animal Law, [S.l.], v. 12, n. 1, p. 116-135, feb. 2024. ISSN 2341-8168. Available at: <https://ojs.abo.fi/ojs/index.php/gjal/article/view/1796>. Date accessed: 19 apr. 2024.