ANIMAL asks photographers about that one shot that got away. This week, Tod Seelie recalls a missed portrait in a radioactive hospital room in Chernobyl.

I was in Chernobyl with a crew of artists and filmmakers working on a strange project called Plan C. We were exploring the hospital, which is popular due to it’s room full of old gas masks. It was also where they had taken the first responder firefighters that all eventually died from exposure to radiation. I had been working on a tripod exposure of a room, when one of the artists in our group came walking down the hall behind me. I turned over my shoulder to say hi, and noticed he was carrying something.

“Is that a firefighter’s helmet?”

“Yeah, I found it in the basement.”

“Uh, you mean where they took the first responders? Did you check it?”

“No.”

He promptly pulled out the geiger counter, scanned the helmet, turned pale, dropped the helmet and walked quickly away.

Later that day we had to pass through a radiation screening point on our way out of the exclusion zone. My friend set off the alarms, much to the guide’s surprise.

I did not get a photo of my friend holding that helmet. Partially because my camera was locked down on my tripod at the time, and partially because I was more concerned with his safety, and then quickly my own. While I do regret that, I can’t really say I blame myself too much.

Tod Seelie is a photographer of NY happenings, tall bike jousting, art rafts and other wanderlust bait from 25 countries. I Should Have Shot That! series is illustrated by James Noel Smith.

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