“I wanted to document these sites because to a lot of people they are just a name or an idea,” said Michael Danner after more than four years of visiting and documenting seventeen nuclear power plants in Germany. The photographer was allowed access to the deepest corners of the plants, including the pools where spent nuclear fuel is cooled and stored. Acting almost as a visual hand-held silent tour through the plants, the photographs lead us from outside the facilities and the usually rural context of the countryside to inside, revealing the photographer’s artistic and documentary concerns. Danner’s intention to show the human side of the plants offers different perspectives on the massive, stodgy, and potentially menacing structures, presenting us with the rituals of everyday activities and an introspective view of the facilities’ interiors.
“Many of these areas are a long way out of town, in places that we Germans have heard of from the media but know nothing about,” Danner explained. Black and white documents of past events in Brokdorf, Gorleben, and Wackersdorf, shown from the perspective of the anti-nuclear activists, reveal the battle grounds and territorial sites these municipalities are in recent history: helicopters circling above, water cannons pointed against anti-nuclear protesters, police officers armed with riot shields barging through the doors of a residential dwelling, or barbed-wire reinforced enclosures help the viewer revisit the violent protests of the mid-1970s and mid-1980s.
The complex layering of industrial architecture and facilities are expressive of the era’s aspirations and the dawning trust in technological progress. As pictured in Danner’s opening photographs, these industrial plants are also reminiscent of the migration of people from rural to urban spaces and the technological transition to the industrial system of early capitalist production. At first view, the power stations seem indistinguishable from typical industrial sites – this helps Danner extend the photographic discourse over the routine views of all industrial buildings. As the boundaries between the exterior and the interior are subtly dissolved, allowing the viewer an insensible passage inside the facilities, elements of the surveillance-control complex such as electronically secured metal barriers or single-entry access control doors advert us that we are looking at areas usually shielded from public view. These containments areas reveal their specific rituals, especially in the uniform room: rituals of cleansing and changing outfits unmask how individual identity/subjectivity is put to the service of a collective and opaque functional corpus.