Photographer Serhiy Polezhaka’s exhibition “Bridges of Donbas” opened in the Izolyatsia Foundation in Kyiv yesterday. He has managed to work for News Agency Reuters, Der Spiegel, La Vanguardia magazines, Het Nieuwsblad, Tages Anzeiger newspapers and lots of other MM during the 5 years of his career in journalism. Now is a student of Danish School of Media and Journalism. He told Platfor.ma about photography in Ukraine, specific features of taking photos in the ATO, and tendencies of visual journalism in the world.
It started when he was at school. It was before his trip to Scotland. He was in the eighth form when he got his first very simple digital camera and took pictures of nature. Then he made the decision to deal with photography in a “serious” way when he left school and became a student of the Institute of Journalism. He and his friend Lyosha Furman started taking pictures of concerts and some events, being first-year students. When they were second-year students, they signed contracts with “Fotolenta” and continued taking pictures of news. In five years it was possible to say that that was nonsense, but they had a chance to gain experience. At that time, they also founded photo club in the Institute of Journalism. Every year they enrolled first-year students and told them about photography and photo journalism.
The motivation to deal with news photography was very simple at that time – it was adrenaline to be present at historical events, to observe the development of history. It would be more difficult to find reference points in other genres. To earn more money and to get more contracts and orders? Photo journalism is always real life communication. You do not click impersonal galleries on the Internet, but you meet people at photo sessions, you show your pictures, see the pictures of others, borrow their tricks and find yours. It is a powerful community and, at the same time, a tacit competition. For example, invaluable annual January meetings when you ask, “Buddy, will you help me to select photos at WorldPressPhoto?”. Of course, the understanding of the profession and your place in it have changed.
If we do not speak about news, our photographs are a point of view, a message, a story. It often happens that you do something and you are doubtful whether it is worth to show it to public. It is the problem for all “artists” – photographers, painters, musicians; however, it is the most vivid in documentalism.
The influence of war on photo journalism in Ukraine
The war was a springboard in the careers of a lot of photo journalists. The technical level has risen; journalists have received a lot of contacts; they have become more united; there have appeared new faces. A lot of them started taking pictures for foreign MM. When I first came to the Donbas, I was angry. Maidan was very close, and a lot of journalists took pictures of it. But when the war started in the Donbas – nobody was there. Were they lazy? Were they scared? I say that not because I am so brave. Why are you at home if the events there are historical ones? I was not right. Photographers came there, but a bit later, and I had been completely devastated, physically and morally, by that time.
If to sum up the discussions about the ethics of journalist’s non-interference, then the rule which works during the time of war is like that: when you are in a trench, you may give someone a tourniquet, but not ammunition. If the situation is hyperbolized, it means that when someone is dying in front of you – yes, you should help, of course. However, all these pestered discussions have nothing to do with real life, and the dilemmas are more complicated, and the decisions are often made on the basis of reflexes and intuition.
Photos are less and less worth risking the life. The more products there are, the less there cost price is. Why do we want to take this picture? If it is our own, the author’s, particular idea, you make the decision by yourself. If you do it to get adrenaline – no problem. But if we want to tell people what is going on there, this is not justified. There are people with smart phones, militaries with GoPro on their helmets, surveillance cameras, satellite photos – they will tell people about events without you and your participation.
Serhiy Polezhaka: Photo is less and less worth risking life.Part 2
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