I knew very little about City No. 65 because little information existed about the place. During the Soviet era, it was one of the secret cities where military activities took place. Such cities were designated with numbers instead of names and didn't appear on maps. No. 65 was particularly special because it was where the first Soviet atomic bomb was made. It was also the site of history's greatest nuclear accident, in 1957, decades before Chernobyl.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, the city lost its numerical designation and was given the name Ozyorsk—"City of Lakes." I was told that the city was still closed today because its 80,000 inhabitants had voted to keep it closed. They could leave, but no one could come in. What did it mean to live in a closed city all one's life? Why on earth would people vote to keep it closed?
I traveled to No. 65 with three scientists from Columbia University who were studying, with Russian colleagues, the effects of radiation on the chromosomes of people who had worked at the Mayak plutonium plant, the city's main employer. Ozyorsk was important for their research because it is a place where several generations exposed to low.radiation. The scientists were keen to involve me as an artist/photographer to disseminate ideas about their work outside the scientific realm. I was the first photographer from the West to enter this "closed" city.
Excerpt from her essay in the FOTOFEST2006 catalogue.
NATHALIE LATHAM #65
Nº65 documents Latham’s travels to Ozyorsk, Russia, the home of the Soviet Union’s first plutonium production complex, Mayak. Created in 1948 and known as Nº65, the city was not marked on any map, Soviet or otherwise. The children and grandchildren of the Mayak workers continue to reside in the city and scientists study the effects of radiation over several generations. In December 2003, Latham accompanied three scientists from Columbia University, New York, to visit the closed city of Ozyorsk, Russia.
Nathalie Latham was born in Brisbane, Australia, and completed her postgraduate studies in Japanese at universities in Kyoto, Japan, and Sydney. She is based in Paris.
She travels extensively and bases her work on the people she encounters through her journeys, using text and photography or video. Through her work, she attempts to break down preconceptions the viewer may have, and allude to the universality of the human experience and the relationship to oneself, others, and one’s environment.
Latham recently exhibited a video work, Sleeping Angels, as one of three artists taking part in Passing Through, a major lens-based exhibition at Ffotogallery, Cardiff, Wales. She presented Do You Vote, a photo-text work, at Trace Gallery in Weymouth, England, and participated in the Photographer’s Network Exhibition in Germany. In 2006 her work is being exhibited at Galleri Image, Aarhus, Denmark; Centrum för Fotografi, Stockholm; and the Houses of Parliament, London.
Her work has been published in the Australian Financial Review, Pluck (UK), Le Monde 2, Frankfurter Rundschau, Fotomagazin, and Italy’s Domus.
Galleri Image – Center for Fotografi, Aarhus, TBA, August 4