Posts Tagged 'war photography'

A picture and a thousand words

So in one of those interesting social media juxtapositions, I’ve have these two posts by and about (two different) photographers popping up next to each other in my facebook timeline:
“A Russian photographer of a Russian state propaganda agency gets a World Press Photo for some “conflict between self-proclaimed republics and the official Ukrainian authorities” […] The “funny” thing is, this war (and it is a full-scale war) would have never happened without Russian propaganda (in other words, his employer). Moreover, the agency and the separatists are funded from the same pocket (in other words, Kremlin).”
“The series of pictures I have submitted do explain the fanaticism that has driven the largest war in Europe in a generation, the transformative effects of war on both the pro-government and separatist fighters, and the tragedy of the most vulnerable – those civilians trapped on both sides of demarcation zone – technically frontline. I document three groups’ experiences: those workers and other civilians living on the ‘cease-fire line’, collectively punished by Kiev, which has imposed a pitiless economic embargo, those fighters from Ukrainian battalions, a mix of moderate supporters of a Western leaning Ukraine, as well as Ukrainian nationalists, and the pro-Russian rebels, frustrated by Putin, who led them to believe in a bright future of close ties to the Russian world, but has not delivered what he promised.”
I’m not going to link, because I don’t know either of the photographers whose work is discussed and couldn’t begin to judge their merit or motivations. I’m just going to make a few remarks from the depths of my cynical soul.
These two posts about pictures are in fact all about words. Consider, for example, ‘Russian’, ‘pitiless’, ‘rebel’ and, indeed, ‘war’.
Neither Ukraine, Russia or any other country officially calls the east Ukraine conflict a war. You might say that’s a technicality when approaching 10,000 people have died in it and humanitarian photographers are busy documenting the fallout. But even from a humanitarian point of view it does really matter to – in just one example – the 700 plus detainees on both sides who because this is not a war, have no protection whatsoever as war prisoners.
Words really, really matter. I wish I could take ‘humanitarian’ pictures and feel good about myself and win a few awards. Hell, I wish I could feel good about writing stories to ‘give a human face’ or some such cliche. But this conflict has a history, semantic and visual and political and yes, humanitarian. Or should that be human.
Few photographers and writers are experts in neutrality. We don’t just throw our work out into the world like a naked babe. We clothe it in assumption, insinuation, association – because we’re just human too.

While we’re on the subject of contextless war photos… (Preparation for 9 May WW2 commemorations, Kyiv 2015)

The wrong picture

It’s zero degrees inside the flats, and people are cooking on bonfires outside – very close to the entrance to the basement, so they can drop everything and run inside for shelter.

“What do you mean, what do we need?” shouts one man cheerfully, in response to a question from the humanitarian aid workers I’m with. “We’ve got everything! Everything except gas. And water. And windows and doors…” I’m not sure if he’s really trying to be cheerful, or if this is how he expresses rage.

“We’re living like pigs,” says one of the women. Maybe she was house-proud once, maybe she kept her flat daintily spick and span. Maybe that flat there is hers, the one with destroyed shelves still heaped with dusty books and clothes, visible through the broken window where a forlorn lace curtain hangs… “Like pigs. We’re stuck on the frontline here, but we are people too, why doesn’t anyone remember that?”

“Don’t take pictures of our house, go to the school,” says Marina, a woman in her forties wearing a grubby white bobble hat. “I really wish someone would write an article about the school, it’s completely ruined. It’s not important to me anymore who ruined it, what’s important is the result. And I pity the children most. None of this is their fault.”

krasnohorivka toy

The sun is setting, gilding the rubble and picking out like diamonds the broken glass everywhere. It turns Marina’s face gold, lights her eyes for a second so that she’s beautiful, as if lit from within.

Sunset isn’t a time to linger admiring the light, it’s a signal for the daily shelling to intensify. We’re starting back towards the car when Marina emerges again from the ruined block of flats with a bag of home-made pirozhky – fried pasties. “For you! You must take them! You’ve been travelling all day.”

She thrusts them into our hands and won’t let us refuse, even though we all know she and her family have nothing; no jobs, no money, no windows, no water, no end to the nightmare…

I never take pictures of these people. I only take pictures of their ruined houses.  I’m not a photographer, and photographing their faces feels too much like intruding on their misfortune.

But that’s wrong. It’s the people who matter, not the devastation. I want to show you Marina in her grubby bobble hat, beautiful Marina caring about the children, feeding us pirozhky.



previous posts

A novel about the Crimean Tatars' return to their homeland

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