Experience

Alexander Chekmenev’s Photography Exhibition “Beyond Despair”

Alexander Chekmenev’s photography exhibition featuring portraits of the civilians from Slavyansk, as well as injured Ukrainian soldiers was opened in Kiev. Bird In Flight editor has asked the photographer to tell the story behind the photographs.



Photography Exhibition of Alexander Chekmenev opened in Mystetskyi Arsenal National Cultural-Arts and Museum Complex within the frames of the large-scale project «Ukrainian landscape. Beyond despair”. This exposition presents a photographic portrait of injured Ukrainian soldiers who were involved with the Anti-Terrorist Operation in eastern Ukraine, as well as portraits of the civilians of Slavyansk and vicinity, where the military operation has continued till recently.

Alexander Chekmenev, age 45

was born in Lugansk. He is the author of the two books: Donbass and Black and White Photography. His photos were published in the Time and the New York Times, his work was presented in Levee (Switzerland), Poznań (Poland), Dusseldorf (Germany), and Kiev (Ukraine). He is winner of «Ukrpressfoto» and Photographer of the Year of Ukraine 2013 awards.

Why did you go to Eastern Ukraine?

During that time my parents were trapped in Lugansk and like residents of Slavyansk they took shelter in the cellars. When I contacted them they advised me not to come, but I decided to go because I wanted to understand what was happening there. I could not go to Lugansk, so I went to Slavyansk.
Mass media did not have any information and lacked news items based on the stories of the affected people. If you want to see the clear pictures, nothing can be compared to talking to those who were affected. I spent a lot of time in conversing with the people of Slavyansk. In most cases it took me several hours to make a single photo.


{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/chekmenev_03.jpg”,
“alt”: “Alexander Chekmenev 03”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/chekmenev_08.jpg”,
“alt”: “Alexander Chekmenev 08”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/chekmenev_05.jpg”,
“alt”: “Alexander Chekmenev 04”
}

Which stories have moved you the most?

In Slavyansk I saw the left-over of a foundation and realized that there was a house. I started asking people and it turned out to be a two-storied residential building. I kept looking for the survivors and I was lucky to find the family who lived there. They were inside the building when missile hit their neighbor’s apartment. The man took out his two children and wife from their apartment on the first floor: he pulled them though the fire and smoke so they could jump out from the window. When the man could leave the building himself, he recalled that his 86-year old neighbor could not move herself and probably stayed inside her apartment. So, he went back to rescue the old woman. Shortly after that the whole building burned to ashes. The six year old son of this man was showing me his burned palm saying, “Look, I took hold of the pipe and then I jumped.” To hear such stories in person is very different from reading them in the news.


{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/chekmenev_06.jpg”,
“alt”: “Alexander Chekmenev 01”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/chekmenev_04.jpg”,
“alt”: “Alexander Chekmenev 02”
}

I can remember one more case of a family affected by bombing. When a missile hit the building, the man was inside their apartment while his wife and son were outside. They stayed alive because a garage building in front protected them from the shell fragments. Their neighbor from the ground floor offered them a shelter and they stayed with her. Since this accident whenever their child heard the sound of any airplane, he started stuttering and biting his head against the wall saying, “Papa, they will bombard us, papa, they will bombard us.” When I met the man, the boy and his mother already had left Slavyansk.

What was the most difficult in this project?

As soon as people see a camera, they ask for the proof of identity. If you are a journalist, does not matter, Ukrainian or Russian, you can’t expect that they will be sincere with you because both sides falsify information. It was hard to prove that you can be trusted and even if somebody told you his or her story, it was difficult to persuade people to pose for a photo.

Why did you decide to make portraits in a military hospital in Kiev?

People from Mystetskyi Arsenal were thinking about a charity project to help the injured soldiers and were looking for a photographer who would make portraits in the military hospital. They saw my pictures from Slavyansk published in the Focus magazine and contacted me. I wanted to have access to the hospital to shoot, so I agreed.


{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/chekmenev_01.jpg”,
“alt”: “Alexander Chekmenev 05”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/chekmenev_07.jpg”,
“alt”: “Alexander Chekmenev 05”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/chekmenev_02.jpg”,
“alt”: “Alexander Chekmenev 06”
}

In Kiev you feel like there is no war and there will be no war. But in reality, the war is right there, over the wall! To understand it you just need to visit the military hospital and see boys who lost their limbs. They literality left part of themselves in this war. They have changed and never will be same as before. Some of those who lost limbs are smiling; they want to move on and participate in Paralympics.

Anastasia Taylor-Lind, Photographer at VII Photo:
«f you have chance to see the pictures made with a medium format camera printed in a big format and high resolution, you will see a lot of details, which you can’t notice from a monitor. For example, on one of the pictures we can see an injured woman lying on a hospital bed. In the exhibition I noticed her hands, the tips of her nails were covered with green antiseptic, through which you can see a neat manicure. A picture is worth thousands words!

Photographs of Alexander Chekmenev are very personal; they are noticeably different from the other pictures from Eastern Ukraine. A lot of wonderful photographers work there, but he uses his very own approach. His photos catch you and you are hooked with those soulful eyes of the people on his portraits».


{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/chekmenev_exhibit_01.jpg”,
“alt”: “Exhibition Beyond despair”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/chekmenev_exhibit_02.jpg”,
“alt”: “Exhibition Beyond despair 02”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/chekmenev_exhibit_03.jpg”,
“alt”: “Exhibition Beyond despair 03”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/chekmenev_exhibit_04.jpg”,
“alt”: “Exhibition Beyond despair 04”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/chekmenev_exhibit_05.jpg”,
“alt”: “Exhibition Beyond despair 05”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/chekmenev_exhibit_06.jpg”,
“alt”: “Exhibition Beyond despair 06”
}

New and best

74

249

1423
72

Read more