30 years have passed since world’s worst nuclear accident happened at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (ChNPP) in the former Soviet Union (present-day Ukraine).

Over the course of a 14 months, photojournalist Kazuma Obara explored the area to see what effects remain from this horrific tragedy.

His work, “Exposure,” depicts the first 30 years of the life of an invisible girl who was affected by the Chernobyl disaster. Just 5 months after the accident, Maria was born in Kiev, located 100 km south from Chernobyl. She was a very sickly child and did not grow normally. Finally, when she was 24 years old, she had an operation which removed her thyroid gland. Since then, she has to take 10 to 20 pills every day.

During Obara’s research in Ukraine, he discovered that the main problems of surviving victims were not visible and not obvious to other people. He wanted to capture the current situation and, moreover, he wanted people to imagine the invisible problems that these disaster victims face.

To represent this invisibility—as well as the unseen contamination still present in the land—Obara’s images were created using old Ukrainian color-negative films, found in the abandoned city of Pripyat, located 5 km from the ChNPP.

While the word “exposure” commonly denotes visibility and revelation, these images and the process by which they were made challenges that view. While the film was only recently “exposed” in the conventional sense, it seems to have been receiving exposure from radiation dating back to the nuclear accident many years in the past.

Just like Maria, who had been exposed before birth, before visibility, and before volition, Obara’s use of this film, with its unruly and visually confusing character refuses the apparent instantaneity of the photographic image. Instead, the viewer is called to consider that all of our present lives bear the traces of a life-long and prenatal exposure to the world.

—Kazuma Obara

Editors’ note: This haunting, conceptually powerful series was selected as a finalist in the Documentary category of the Magnum Photography Awards 2016. Discover more inspiring work from all 44 of the winners, finalists, jurors’ picks and student spotlight award winners.

This work was also recognized in the 2016 World Press Photo Awards, being given the 1st Prize Stories in the People category.