Like Milli Vanilli, and so many others pretending to be what they weren’t, Elena, the Chernobyl motorcyclist, may have lessened the credibility she earned through her arresting Chernobyl photojournal.
UPDATE: I feel that Elena damaged herself more than she realized, in her attempt to sensationalize her Chernobyl photos. I wrote this post, "Faking It?" as a cautionary note to anyone else who might like to learn from someone else’s mistakes.
I see this as a sort of Greek tragedy. Someone has a valid message to deliver to the world, and in the process adds untruth to the message. The end result is the social destruction (discrediting) of the messenger.
Her photos captured the results of an extraordinary event and her down-to-earth language underscored the seriousness of the disaster. There is such power in the truth that an unvarnished account of what she saw and what she felt would stand on its own merits for many years.
Her efforts to dress up some of the photos and to heighten the adventure by pretense made it into a travesty like those Hollywood productions where the leading lady can’t sing, can’t dance, and is only present for close-ups. When the truth is discovered, all involved lose credibility, regardless of the subject matter.
UPDATE: Now you can tour Chernobyl and write your own story.
Recent reports would indicate that she and her husband and a guide toured the area in an automobile and that she posed some of the closeup pictures with material she brought from elsewhere. Update: If you tour her site, you will see that the only photos where her motorcycle is visible are outside the dead zone.
Too bad, because the photographs were gripping enough.
Here is a comment from Mary Mycio who is based in Kyiv and writing a book about Chornobyl for the Joseph Henry Press.
Update: another comment from Tony Brown.
Neil Gaiman, the noted author, spoke for many of us when he said, "This one left me blinking. Not so much because it was a fraud, as why anyone would bother to create such a fraud…"
Update: The story of Elena’s deception is still spreading on different forums. People are debating why she did it and what if she hadn’t, etc. Ruud on cre8asite forums started a thread based on my post and it seems to have a life of its own.
Thanks to NRT for making me get off the dime and address this issue. (It had been surfacing for the past 48 hours like one of those menacing balloons that were featured in the wonderful series, "The Prisoner" with Patrick McGoohan.) NRT has a stylish and entertaining weblog that is worth a visit.