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.
Serhiy Polezhaka: Photo is less and less worth risking life. Part 1
Scandal with «Another Crimea» Project
Three biggest agencies NOOR, Magnum, and VII launch a joint propaganda project “Another Crimea”. Everything indicated that it was ordered by the “Russian World” organization through “Russian Reporter” journal though it is fixed nowhere who exactly ordered it. It is understandable that the project is expensive: to order the site, to pay photographers, to pay all photographers for binding, page-proofs, to pay guides-interpreters… The client is secret. Besides, there are glaring fact mistakes: one of the projects is signed: Simferopol, the Crimea, Russia though, according to international law, it is the occupied territory of Ukraine, and I cannot understand how they could do it in a different way. In response, the author answered that the captions are not his. The excuses are childish. One photograph is dated July 20, 2014, three days after the shooting down the Malaysian Boeing. All people were absorbed with it; who was interested in taking pictures of Soviet agitation at that moment?
Author’s Project: “Bridges of Donbas”
From the very beginning of the war my main job was news. When there were no events and, respectively, no orders, I chose objects for shooting by myself. I tried “to understand”, “to rethink” the war. But everything what one can see is destruction. In modern world discourse, army and armed forces have, as a rule, negative connotations – legalized violence, hyperbolized masculinity, etc. And, on the other hand, everyone takes pictures of “civilians”. I wanted to take pictures of something abstract, something which unites, of something that will simultaneously present all people and, at the same time, about the destruction which war brings. It happens that this “abstract” thing was blown up bridges. Quite unexpectedly, I am getting more and more interested in esthetics and the methods of Dusseldorf school of photography, and “New objectivity”: You distance yourself from the object you shoot trying to keep yourself uninvolved. This way you try to be more objective. This is how I came to the concept of this series of photographs.
The “Bridges of Donbas” project consists of 11 photographs of bridges located on the Ukrainian territory. There are lots of bridges on the “other” side, but I do not have access to them. I tried to distance myself as far as possible from the Ukrainian MM. I had papers and was accredited with Danish School of Media and Journalism. However, my Ukrainian passport did not give me any chance to get to the territory of self-proclaimed L-DPR, and I did not want to be kept in a basement by them.
Problems journalists experience in ATO
When you present news from the zone of the conflict, the problems are predictable: physical threat to your health and life. You need a lot of skills and knowledge; you should be prepared for it. You need expensive equipment; you are constantly in search for transport; there are problems with logistics; discomfort, and stress.
During the work on the project, I experienced problems with access. And it was not because of shooting. In my case I experienced problems with access because bridges (even exploded ones) are strategic objects. They are defended by militaries, and it is difficult to explain the militaries that in a black-and-white photograph there will be no anti-tank mines and positions seen. And everything should be agreed upon with the military press service.
When I was taking pictures of a bridge in Slovyansk, the militaries shouted at me to stop. And it was just in time. I thought that they did not want to let me pass, but they said that the problem was they had booby traps in the bushes just at the place which I wanted to take a picture from. These are things you should take into account when you work at the war.
Prospects of world photo journalism
As futurologists such as Jensen and Bard predict, the information society will be replaced by the society of the dream. People will not sell goods or services, or even information how to produce them. They will sell stories, dreams. This is just what we do. There are wars, terrorist attacks, celebrities’ weddings and their children births, species extinguish… But there are a few visual techniques to fix them. So, photo journalism is changing, mutating, and turning into something new.
New service "Explain Ukraine". This is a daily mailout of two articles which were written about the situation in the Donbas by Donbas journalists and translated into English. Honest vision of people who work in the field is unbiased and fresh which is crucial in the world which is full of desinformation and propaganda. We try to share this vision in out daily mailout. You can subscribe here.