At 17, Michael Forster Rothbart joined and photographed the Icewalk North Pole expedition. Forster Rothbart graduated from Swarthmore College in 1994 and decided to become a documentary photographer in 1996, when traveling in India. He saw a World Bank-financed dam on the Narmada River in Gujarat and found that local activist's views and community impact was undocumented. He has worked as a staff photographer for the University of Wisconsin and an Associated Press photographer in Central Asia. Other projects include documenting the effects of hydrofracking and USAID's programs in Central Asia. He teaches photography at SUNY Oneonta. After receiving a U.S. Fulbright Fellowship, in 2007 Forster Rothbart interviewed and photographed residents in and around Chernobyl. For two years, he lived in Sukachi, Ukraine, a small farming village just outside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and also spent time in Slavutych, Ukraine, the city built after the accident to house evacuated Chernobyl plant personnel.
In 2012, he launched a parallel project in Fukushima, Japan. He has started photographing nuclear plant workers, refugees and returning residents over a period of years. An online version of the exhibit was published October 21, 2013, by TED Books. Entitled “Would You Stay?”, it features personal narrative, photos, interviews, maps and audio recordings in an attempt to understand why people refuse to leave Chernobyl and Fukushima despite the risks. The National Press Photographers Association’s Best Of Photojournalism 2014 competition awarded “Would You Stay?” first place in the Multimedia Tablet/Mobile category, third place for Best Use of Multimedia and an honorable mention in the Contemporary Issues category.